She knocks on the front door, but she really didn’t have to. I saw her crouching there a few days ago. I can feel her presence before she announces herself. I didn’t invite her; she simply comes.
She isn’t a respecter of persons; she visits you, too. She visits us all.
Sometimes, I feel she wants to own me, to swallow me. She’s cut grooves on my skin. I can trace the journeys from one loss to another.
I ask myself, is this how I want to define my days? By the distance between griefs?
Her name is Grief. And I don’t mean simply any kind of grief, as griefs are born through death, through suffering, through illness, through broken relationships, through poverty, and hopelessness, multiple forms of trauma, and countless other ways. I mean that she is born daily, in small ways and big ways.
She is everywhere and anywhere. I can’t escape her; none of us can.
She wants me to think she’ll stay with me forever. It often appears she will. Sometimes she takes over, tossing objects this way and that. She eats my food, and sometimes, I think she wants to eat me.
On other occasions, she is quiet and calm, sitting peacefully, staring, thinking, or humming. In those moments, I leave her alone. I move about my day unfettered, knowing she’s there, and I can forget for a while that she exists.
She’s turned me into a master of pretending. She pours over me like a wave, but I show the world she is not attached to me, as if she is a jacket I can remove or keep on. I meet my societal expectations. I show up. But she and I, we both know the secret, that she’s still hiding behind the curtains.
She’s a well-known companion to many, known in varying degrees. She lives on every street, in every house, in every mind. She’s part of the world’s DNA.
I don’t say that to sound pessimistic; as if simply because she whispers in our ears every day and leaves her handprint on our walls that she’s determined our fate, that she has the last word. But I do mean to say that she has and she hasn’t. She does and she doesn’t. She is and she isn’t.
In a sense she inhabits every space and no one knows her coming or her going.
Grief coexists with her siblings. In this world Grief, Loneliness, and Sorrow comingle with Joy, Hope, and Love. They hold hands, circle around us, singing their songs into our lives. They weave in and out of our lives, always coming and going.
During a temporary respite from Grief’s presence, we can be jolted back into her company in an instant, with a scent, a place, or a melody. She is always near, like a trustworthy friend.
I can’t offer a formula or a plan of how to unpeel her from our skin. But I do know that she does, at times, fade into the background.
She doesn’t insert herself into the place of eternal permanence. She has a lifespan, just as we do.
For now, she’s tucked away in the dark recesses of my closet. But she can grow in the darkness, expanding without the need for sun, without care and tending, like some sort of alien life form.
I don’t know her termination date. Her presence lingers for varying times, and we mend as individually as we are.
But the truth is that her presence, in a strange way, is a sure sign there once was Joy. She is a reminder of something good that once existed.
I don’t want Grief in my life; I’d rather she stay forever gone. But that is not a choice I can control. She’s in the air, in the soil—she’s part of the ache of all that is alive. Perhaps that is why she is here. Perhaps that is why when Grief has interwoven her threads into our being that our Joy is that much more immense.
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.*
*Excerpted from On Joy and Sorrow by Kahlil Gibran
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