To my friends at Operation Snowball…
I have been reflecting on the experience of last Thursday evening. For those who were unable to join us, the Teen Directors presented a fascinating and enlightening experiential exercise. We were divided into two discussion groups. The first group—the one to which I was assigned—shared memories of positive life experiences. The second shared those less pleasant…experiences we would often rather not recall. The TDs noted the differing atmospheres that emerged in the separate rooms. As you can imagine, those differences—everything from tone of voice and human interaction, to body language and emotions—were often dramatic.
As we debriefed the experience, we noted how much more energizing it was to be with the group sharing the positive aspects of life. We generally agreed that we prefer to spend our lives with people who are positive and enthusiastic rather than those who wish to dwell in the midst of life’s challenges and crises. It was a wonderful exercise and I congratulate the TDs for revealing life in such an honest way.
If I have a concern, it is how each of us unfolds the lessons into our lives. Many of those in the group that dealt with pain and sadness expressed a desire to escape that experience, preferring to be with those who dealt with joy and happiness. As much as happiness, pleasure, and times of joy are wonderful places to find ourselves, life is false and unreal when we try to wring sadness from its midst. And yet, we live in a culture that increasingly wishes to flee sadness. There is an ever-growing arsenal of pills and medications offering ways to annihilate sadness. Please don’t misunderstand; having spent 1500 hours answering a suicide hotline, I know that for many, medication can turn a life that is unbearably difficult, into one that is contributory and fulfilling. The medications available to us can truly be life saving.
But let us be careful not to confuse deep depression—for which medication is often vital—with life’s tragedies and sadnesses. For reasons I have yet to fully understand, while we love being together in joyous ways, anyone who has been on a Snowball weekend knows of the extraordinary connections we make when we share the vulnerability that comes with the moments of deep pain and anguish. When I recall some of the thousand joyous moments during the 55 years I shared with my father, you learn something of who I am. But when I reveal the tremendous pain and heartache…the deep sense of loss…I experienced when he died, we become connected in a much deeper way. Even I learned something new and deeply profound about myself having lived through the experience of his death—the raw and harsh way life often needs to be lived through us. It is in those moments when you allow me to see what drops you to your knees in agony that you reveal something about who you are that cannot be revealed in any other way. Then, and only then, can I look into your eyes and say “I know you. I understand what you love about life and what you value.”
While moments of joy and happiness are irresistible, when we show up in the vulnerability of pain, sadness and agony, we show up more authentic and more capable of love. And, when we are able to be with others in their most intimate, painful moments—without the need to fix them or wrest the pain from their lives—in those moments we most powerfully show up with love for one another.