I’m writing about four emotions we all know but may frequently puzzle over: sadness and joy, anger and fear. The four are linked in life-giving ways. But it’s the link between sadness and joy that helps us really see our relationship to everyone and everything, even to life itself. Here’s an extreme example that highlights the link.
My parents died sixteen years ago. Although we were not close, my visits before their deaths were intense, emotional, and eye-opening. Both were elderly, frail, and coming to terms with letting go of life. I spent time with each, agonizing over letting go of them. Mother died first, and after she died, Dad relaxed, let go, and died nine days later. He had fulfilled his life purpose—not dying first and leaving mother alone.
I cried and laughed frequently during the seven months before their deaths. The more deeply I allowed myself to cry, the more likely I was to break out in gales of laughter. Crying and laughing seem to be related. Think about the tears of joy that may accompany a birth, reunion, or marriage. Think about the laughter at a roast for a retiring colleague or a memorial service for a person who has just died.
Delight and joy can be so light they lift us up. Sadness and grief can be so heavy they knock us down. Either way, up or down, energy flows within us when we’re exhilarated by deep truths and dreams come true or devastated by broken illusions and unfulfilled promises. The expressions “I laughed my heart out” and “I cried my heart out” are a clue to a connection. That laughing and crying use the same muscles is another. Both joy and sadness seem to come from the same deep “place” within us—perhaps the very relationship we’re trying to name when we use the word soul.
We’re touching something fundamental about the way life is, a core gift of our humanity, and a capacity we need to name, trust, and call upon in our lives. I’ll write more next week.