Walking along Corona del Mar beach on a recent Friday, enjoying the sun on my face (and yes, I had my sunscreen on), the waves crashing against the sand, I felt a sense of peace and contentment. Feeling the beauty and joy of life. I was smiling on the inside and out. I so enjoy those moments of complete joy.
A large flock of seagulls were just hanging out on the sand, also enjoying the day which made me smile even larger, when I spotted one that had a fish hook stuck in its beak. My joy quickly went to sadness. I tried to get near the gull, but of course it wouldn’t let me. I thought about my options to help, but there was really very little I could do. I left feeling sad, imagining the fate of this bird.
I continued on my walk, trying to bring back my sense of joy. It could not have been a more beautiful day with a blue sky and a few wispy clouds. As I was walking back to my car, I decided to visit an old neighbor who I would bring cornbread to on occasion. I had been putting off seeing her, I kept using the excuse that I had too many other things to do. But this time I decided I needed to make the time.
I knocked on her door expecting to get my usual greeting and a hug; however, this time was different. Someone else answered the door and, when I asked for her, I was greeted with a short silence before I came to a sad realization.
The woman invited me in and shared that my friend had passed the previous Tuesday, likely of a heart attack. She had been for her morning walk and, while watering her garden, her heart had stopped beating. Her life on this earth finished in that moment.
My joy shifted quickly to sadness, shock, disappointment, and many memories of when we were neighbors and beyond.
The rest of the day I was left thinking about how life is such a mix of beauty and joy and then pain and sorrow. We have come to expect our lives to be full of joy yet tend to be surprised when pain is part of our lives. Often, we protest the pain rather than embrace it.
Later that day I attended a book club that I lead. We had just read the book “The Elephant in My Kitchen” by Francoise Malby-Anthony.
Malby-Anthony met the love of her life and they opened a rescue for orphaned elephants and rhinos in South Africa. Soon after starting the project, her husband died of a heart attack and she was left to continue his work. The joy of rescuing the animals made it all worthwhile for her, yet the pain of some of the animals passing or being poached brought tears for all the people involved.
See, this is life, be it in the animal kingdom or in our own world. We have such a mix of joy and pain. Embracing both is part of being human, of being alive. We will make our own, and others’, lives easier by doing so.
One of my favorite books is Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” where he says: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Bottom line, we need to expect pain to be part of life. We need to embrace and accept it as much as we embrace and accept joy.
This is life. It is full of small and large joys, and small and large pains. We get to decide how we deal with each of these. Some people cannot embrace joy and some people cannot embrace pain. Either way, you will suffer more by not embracing both as part of our human experience.
“Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don’t numb themselves to really living.” — Ann Voskamp