May 4, 2014
A few weeks ago after a yoga class, I realized that my eyes were leaking again. In fact, they had been since the beginning of class. I’d been doing pretty good the last week or so since it happened. (I often feel weird about what to call it: my miscarriage, our baby’s death, the D&C, D-day?) It seemed that I might have been transitioning out of the angry stage and into some semblance of acceptance. Or perhaps more realistically, surrendering because there was nothing that I could do to change what had happened. Chromosomes malfunctioned, the baby stopped growing, my pregnancy had come to an end.
Like it or not, I didn’t get to write the story. I repeated this in my mind and encouraged myself to let it go for the hundredth or maybe even thousandth time in the last three months. I lay with my eyes closed and let gravity pull the tears across my temples and onto my yoga mat. Everyone else was dripping bodily fluids from the 104 degree room, so I hoped the other participants would think it was just sweat.
The yoga instructor gave some words of congratulations for making it through the difficult class and said, “I leave you with words from the prophet.” She then opened a book and read,
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain. And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy; and you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields. And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.”
This didn’t help my leakage problem. Though the words could apply to many different stories, I felt as if they had been hand picked for me. I self consciously looked around and then up at the instructor, to see if she was standing in some sort of celestial flood light from heaven. But she wasn’t and everyone else lay still on their mats with their eyes closed, unaware. It was all perfectly mundane.
After the class I asked the teacher where she had gotten the passage. She explained that it is from a book called The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran and wrote the name on a sticky note. I thanked her for the class and choked out another little, unattributed thank you. I then went directly to the bookstore across the street to purchase the book.
When I got home that evening, I began to read. The premise is about a man, a prophet, who is leaving a foreign city that he has lived in for years. As he waits for his ship to come and take him home, the people of the village ask him to tell them about different parts of life like love, marriage, children, work, laws, friendship, etc. It took me a while to locate the passage again but a few chapters in, I found it:
“And a woman spoke, saying, ‘Tell us of Pain…”
I read the passage over and over, as if I were unpacking a trunk full of a lost loved one’s things. Laying each item out side-by-side, trying to find that one piece that would help it all make sense. Here is pain, and breaking, and winter. As I looked at the collection, what puzzled me were words like wonderous and serenity lying among the others. In my understanding of good and bad, dark and light, there wasn’t room for ambiguity. Surely pain could not be wondrous.
I then thought about people who like pain. Those who actually enjoy getting tattoos or paint macabre scenes while wearing black turtlenecks. Trying not to be judgmental, I make space for this brooding group of humans (who sometimes border on insane in my mind). But I’ll never understand the love of zombies or blood. It’s just not me. And the idea that pain could be wondrous or looked upon with serenity seemed loony to me. (I’d like to apologize now to anyone who may be wearing a black turtle neck and painting skeletons as we speak. I’m sorry if you are offended. I love you…but I just don’t understand you.)
While I agreed that pain and joy were connected, they were opposites. You could hate one and love the other. Without fully understanding what I was “meant” to learn here, I set the book aside and decided to tackle it on another day. Like I said before, grief is exhausting, making 8:30 p.m. seem like a perfectly good bedtime for any adult. So I went to sleep and hoped that the anxious nightmares wouldn’t visit me again as they had several times a week since it happened.
A few days later, I read a blog post by a friend of mine from high school. She had lost her little girl at birth seven years ago and wrote beautifully about what knowing her daughter for 23 minutes had taught her. She spoke of lying on the floor face-down, weeping for the story she couldn’t write herself and the things she could not control. This was a posture I was familiar with. At the end of the post she included a quote,
“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.” ― Kahlil Gibran
There I was again, looking over my shoulder and wondering if someone was watching. Like I was in The Truman Show and all the scripts were being written for me. Some might see this as the perfect analogy for God (or positive energy, or Goddess or Love – whatever your flavor). Is God speaking to me through Kahlil Gibran? Could God place these details in my life so that I can begin to understand what happend? Probably. Maybe. I hope so.
I decided to read more of The Prophet and found the passage from which my friend had quoted. I discovered that my thoughts of joy and pain being connected were mirrored in Gibran’s words:
“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which you laughter rises and oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain… 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.”
Compared to his thoughts on pain, this selection from Gibran made more sense to me. And as I read it again, I began to see life from a different angle. Even though I have a hard time accepting it, pain and sorrow are made up of the same stuff that joy is. They have the same ingredients: Love, delight, comfort, peace, hope.
So what can I conclude from Gibran’s words, written nearly a hundred years ago, but somehow seem to be aimed directly at me? As I sit in the winter of my grief, a season I’m not sure how long will last, I may be finding some serenity in my miscarriage. I would not wish this pain upon anyone. But I take the well that it has carved into me as making capacity for joy. And instead of trying to stop my tears, I use them as a reminder that I experienced such beautiful delight just a few months ago. If I am ever lucky enough to have a baby someday (because, in light of all the things that could go wrong, the fact that any birth happens is nothing short of luck) I will probably feel my joy more keenly. And the fact that I am able to come to these conclusions today, is truly wondrous.
© 2014 D. Willson