Sunday, May 10, 2015

The kernel of sadness in every happy moment



In The Trauma of Everyday Life, Mark Epstein, MD, writes,

Life is beautiful sometimes, for sure; in fact, it's totally amazing, every day a good day; but that doesn't stop things from being fragile and precarious, nor does it stop us from feeling all too alone. Of course, the line between normal everyday life and calamity seems extraordinarily thin sometimes, but regular life, even in its glory, is difficult. Things don't always go as they should. Our friends and loved ones struggle. The specter of loss is always hovering. And we often feel adrift, unmoored, fearful, and out of our depth.

I read this passage over a few times. It perfectly encapsulates how I feel most of the time. Even in good moments, peaceful moments, those oh-so-rare optimal moments, there is the fear of loss and what will happen when the good feeling passes--because it always does. In happiness there is also fear and dread.

This week I stayed at a beach house rental with my parents, along with my two aunts and an uncle visiting from Sweden. It was a rare opportunity to be right by the ocean, to spend time with relatives I don't often get to see, and to enjoy a home away from home. As a freelancer I spend so much time alone in my apartment that this situation was a lovely gift.

I did spend some time fretting about getting older, about my parents getting older, about loneliness and what I would do when I'm the only one of my immediate family still living. I know this sounds silly and melodramatic. But the thoughts were there, humming in the background as I walked on the beach alone at 7 a.m., stopping to pick up a tulip shell or snap a picture of a sandpiper, it's long thin red beak pecking at the sand.

I was happy in those moments, but I was also full of dread. What will happen when my husband is gone, my parents, even my sweet dog who I love to pieces? How will I cope? Will I never have happy moments again?

I don't have any answers. I could say that distraction helps. Showing gratitude helps. Realizing that I can't predict the future helps (who says I won't be struck down by lightening tomorrow?) Often when we are in dread of some future event it actually turns out better than we expected. Or we make it so because when it comes down to it we don't want to be unhappy. It's the events and feelings that we don't expect that often blindside us.

I had a nice time in Florida this week, I truly did. I have a lot to be grateful for. But it's hard when you know that moment is coming when you have to turn around and go back.  All the while you're enjoying walking along that peaceful shoreline, feeling the warm water lap at your bare toes, you know it's going to end because everything ends. 

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