Over the weekend, my family and I watched the Pixar movie, Inside Out, a story following an eleven-year-old girl named Riley who moves with her parents from Minnesota to San Francisco. This movie emphasized Riley’s full range of emotions which included fear, anger, joy, disgust and sadness. The story made a point of portraying sadness as a positive part of our personality and one necessary for all of us to not only acknowledge, but embrace.
It took me several years to accept sadness as a companion. Our culture insists we look for happiness and stamp out sadness like it is a villain we must destroy. I’ve learned to welcome this glint or tinge of melancholy when I witness my daughter reading a book out loud on the couch, laugh at a silly comment my mother makes over the phone or admire nature’s glory running outdoors. The happiness of participating in these ordinary experiences offers an inexplicable joy, but also the awareness these particular moments will give away to others and will never materialize in the same exact way. The texture of my life appears as a kaleidoscope, the edges of sadness blending into joy. Learning to respect the pull of the pendulum swinging in these diametric opposite directions requires a keen sense of navigation and is a subject repeating itself in many of my words over the last six years.
To live is part joy and sadness, but also colored by an immense amount of gratitude. I am equally grateful for all of my happy moments, as well as my sorrowful ones. To be honest, I am unable to think about one without the other. Separating the two seems unnatural and wrong. This powerful tension keeps me connected to the outside world and directs my focus outward. It always takes my breath away when I am in the throngs of celebrating my own joys, whether it is my daughter’ s birthday party, a dinner at home or watching a movie with my family, while someone else, a friend or stranger, is in the middle of some crisis related to an aging parent, supporting a spouse who is ill or mourning the loss of a job, relationship or a close loved one. This is how the spindle of the world teeters, but it fills me with some discomfort when I fail to acknowledge the sadness, while experiencing my own joy.
The belief of sadness and joy as a pair is one which resonates with me deeply. As I’ve aged, I’ve found attaining a quiet contentment is a more realistic goal for my personality and connecting sorrow and happiness as the same part of the pie is one which rings truest to me. This view fuels my need to sink into ultimate gratitude – welcoming all moments, knowing in an instant, the tilt of these emotions may swing in the exact opposite direction.
I found the New York Times review of Inside Out particularly compelling and A.O. Scott’s closing lines poignant: “Sadness, it turns out, is not Joy’s rival but her partner. Our ability to feel sad is what stirs compassion in others and empathy in ourselves. There is no growth without loss, and no art without longing.”
Yes. One cannot have one without the other and as I bawled through parts of the movie, clenching my daughter’s hand, I found myself nodding my head, sinking into both emotions with equal respect.
Image: Summer’s Requiem by Richard Smith via Flickr