A bridge with people

This bridge on Captiva Island, Florida, led through lush green paths to the sea. January, 2013

This bridge in Captiva, Florida, led through lush green paths to the sea. January, 2013

“When I stopped trying to block my sadness and let it move me instead, it led me to a bridge with people on the other side. Every one of them knew sorrow. Some of them even knew how to bear it as an ordinary feature of being human instead of some avoidable curse. Watching them ride the waves of their own dark emotions, I learned that sadness does not sink a person; it is the energy a person spends trying to avoid sadness that does that.”Barbara Brown Taylor

There’s a lot of pressure in our culture to be fit, healthy, educated, happy, perfect.  All these states of being are blessings (except for perfection, which is an unattainable illusion), but I think we fall into a trap when we imagine we can achieve consistency in any of them.  Health can disappear abruptly no matter how fit we stay, and education is in a continual process of becoming outdated. Life holds no guarantees, and it’s a rare person who never has to deal with great sorrow.

I was drawn to Taylor’s description of sadness as a bridge to other people, because I have found it to be true.  It’s an oversimplification to say “misery loves company.” As I see it, sorrow opens my heart to others because I become aware of how much each of us carries around inside us, and that understanding binds me to people with whom I might otherwise (mistakenly) believe I have nothing in common.  Merely to be human is to share a great deal with every other person I meet.  To some people that probably sounds trite, but for me, it has become a formidable defense against feeling alone and isolated.

This blog would not exist if I believed it was healthy to wallow in despondency or self-pity. But the burdens of life are real and inescapable, and in facing them squarely, there are paradoxical consolations– among which is the equalizing realization of the universal encumbrances of mortality.

Many have observed that going through some disaster or adversity binds people together in ways that prosperity never will.  If you are facing sadness or setbacks in your life, I hope you will find solace in the unique bonds you form with fellow travelers on similar paths. Taylor is right in asserting that sadness does not have to sink a person, and indeed, it often transforms into a kind of strength that can change a life…or an entire world.

34 Comments

  1. HarryS

    Grapevine Quote

    March 21
    “Success and failure share a common denominator … Both are temporary.”
    Escondido, Calif., August 2001
    From: “Win Or Lose”.

    This makes me sad!
    This makes me glad!

    • Yes, it’s a bit of both, isn’t it? Just like life. 🙂

  2. Julia, I just read your comments on the Upper Room devotional. I am so happy that Jeff celebrated his 30 year retirement!! Wow! Now that is some achievement. I pray he is doing well and the whole family is blessed. I always have you in my thoughts and prayers.

    I have been having some health issues and ask for your prayers as well. Ron has been doing good lately! Love and Light

    • Thanks Cherie, Jeff is having a rough time lately, but we keep hoping and praying for better days ahead. We so appreciate your prayers and you certainly will be in mine. I’m glad Ron is doing well and I hope you are too, very soon! ❤

  3. Amy

    Did you know that the song, “When Peace Like a River” by Horatio Spafford was written at a time of great sorrow for him? He lost all his wealth in the Chicago fire. Then he lost four daughters in an accident at sea. While he was on his way to meet his wife in Europe after the accident he wrote the lyrics for the song. In spite of all his sorrow he wrote this beautiful song and believed that the Lord could make everything well with his soul. Later he moved his wife and family to Israel where they started a children’s home and mission. If anyone had a reason to let sorrow overcome him it was Horatio Spafford. Most of us do not endure this type of sorrow but we all have some and it is always easy to think no one understands. I hope we all seek solace in the Lord and that we can find a way to believe that all is well with our soul. Like the last verse of the song which comes from Revelation 22:20, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”.

    • Amy, I think I had heard part of that story before, but not all of the details. The words of the song have the ring of truth because the person who wrote them was not speaking without knowledge. I do think history shows that a lot of greatness comes from sorrow, and for those of us who aren’t great, sadness still seems to bring its own kind of wisdom. I have always found it interesting that Isaiah refers to Jesus as “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” Of all the things written about Jesus, that is one that brings such comfort. I’ve often thought (and said) that I don’t think I would want to be the person I would have been if Matt had not come into our lives. Not that I was a bad person, but there are a lot of things I don’t think I could have understood as well as I do after 30 years of living with Matt. But I think all of us, even so-called “fortunate” people, yearn to find the peace that comes with being able to say “It is well with my soul.” BTW that is one of my favorite songs. It was the first song we sang at Daddy’s memorial service.

  4. That was beautifully said. I like the idea that our troubles build a bridge to those that can sustain us through it. Yes, everyone has troubles. EVERYONE. I know of many that have dropped dead in apparent good health. “No guarantees” is absolutely correct. I think there may be something to the idea that we get troubles so we have to reach out to each other. Good thinking on God’s part. 🙂

    • Marlene, I agree!

  5. Sheila

    Julia, it really is hard to think of sadness as energizing but when we think again, it really is! That is, if we recognize, accept, and know that the positive attitude can make the difference. You and I came together, paths crossing, similar situations, hurdles and unknown, but yet strength beyond words for me! I will be forever grateful, and my friends and family know that that I have a very special friend….. Julia! 💛

    • Thank you Sheila. When I look back on all that has happened to both you and me in just the short time we’ve known each other, in our strangely parallel lives, it’s really remarkable how much happens in only a few years. This morning I was thinking about how Salty, and then Pasha, left us with tears and smiles and sweet memories. Not to mention losing Dr. Vann, and then Larry, and Daddy…of course I could go on and on but we’ll just sit on the Verandah and sip our tea and talk about how beautiful the sunset is, and how happy we are to welcome another spring. Thanks so much for being on this long and winding road with us! ❤

  6. Jack

    If I’m spared the pains of sorrow and misery, how will I ever learn compassion? My faith instructs me that I pass through these things not for me, but that I might be of use to some another during their time of trial. Early in recovery from alcoholism, I was told that my current misery would one day be of great comfort to another that was enduring the same (provided I stuck around!). Now when someone asks me whether the pain of not drinking is adequate compensation for the joy of freedom, a resounding yes is the answer. But how would I have known apart from suffering?

    And by the way, misery is misery whether it’s of the self inflicted type, minimal in someone else’s eyes, a loved one’s illness, whatever. “Nothing is wasted in God’s economy”, so says the Big Book of AA. I believe!

    • Jack, that’s the message of 2 Corinthians 1:4. I know relatively little about AA/12 step teachings but what I have heard of it all does seem spot on to me. I believe we are all in recovery from something or other, and I do think we get strength from each other– and from knowing how much better life can be. I have never heard the phrase “Nothing is wasted in God’s economy” but I love that thought. I believe it too! And I find it immensely comforting– especially since I have a pathological fear of wasting anything. 😀

  7. Good Morning Julia. It’s not yet 7am here but you’re probably around your kitchen, perhaps having tea with Jeff. The promise of a new day and all it brings. As you eloquently wrote, we can never be sure what the day will bring. One of the people to find themselves in harms way yesterday in Belgium, may have started their day much as we are, catching up on-line with someone they love. It made me sad to hear the news. With so many families affected, it’s a harsh reminder that life is precarious at best. I suppose the over used, ‘Carpe diem’ may have been first uttered for this precise reason. Still, if you plan to enjoy life at all, rather than be a hermit, anything can happen, any day, any where. Actually even a hermit can have a mishap at home. It’s hard to not ever have a wasted day, you can’t be ‘on’ every single moment of your life but sad or ‘bad’ circumstances do reinforce to me that the clock is ticking, maybe even faster these days. xo K

    • Good morning K! It’s about 8:00 am here on the east coast, which means you’re probably still enjoying some sleep or just starting your day. And yes, I AM having some tea! The news from Belgium is one in a long line of stories that make us want to stay safely hidden away in our homes, but the “safely” is an illusion; as you pointed out, tragic things can happen anywhere. If we hunker down and hide, the terrorists win. So, amid the loudly ticking clocks, we can still enjoy the day and the gifts it will bring. In fact, perhaps the knowledge of how fragile life is, will make it all the more special. Thanks for joining me this morning; though this comment was written two days ago, it time-traveled to me today 🙂 and brightened my day!

  8. Julia, such a lovely quote. It’s amazing what the human spirit can endure and learn from all of the things we feel. I’ve thought before that people who’ve never experienced any kind of hardship are missing out on the depths of life. Unfortunately some hardship is inflicted at a young age, leaving a life time of damage in it’s wake. But for those of us that came to know some of these losses as an adult, I believe, like you, that it makes us stronger, wiser and more compassionate to the woes of our fellow human beings.

    • Alys, it’s like the line from the old Hall and Oates song “Rich Girl” — “High and dry, out of the rain, It’s so easy to hurt others when you can’t feel pain.” From the time that song came out it really hit home with me. Though it’s easy to grow bitter, cynical and even hateful from trouble, most of us do manage to transform the lessons of sadness into a kind of wisdom. Sometimes I wish there was an easier way, though. 😀 Thanks for being here with me through all the ups and downs!

      • Me too, Julia! As with most things in life, the only way to get to the other side of things is through it. We can try going over, under and around, but we always end up on that same path.

        • How true! At the age of nearly 60, I’m getting tired enough that it’s a bit easier to silence my natural tendency to rebel and try to find a different way out. I’m realizing that the act of resistance is often more exhausting than simply pressing on. One of many gifts that come with aging, I suppose. Now I’m working on learning to love “that same path.” It’s not without beauty along the way.

          • There is beauty along the path. I also believe that it’s human nature to resist pain or discomfort. We like the shortcuts. They feel good in the moment, but they don’t always serve us well over time. xo

            • So true! Take hypertext, for example. One would think that it would save time to be able to reach a resource simply by clicking on a link (as opposed to the old days, when we had to drag out a physical dictionary or encyclopedia) but for me, I end up losing far more time than I save, when I follow the rabbit down the hole into Wonderland and jump from link to interesting link. Not only are shortcuts sometimes bad for us…they sometimes aren’t even shortcuts! Just read about the Donner Party. Scary.

  9. michael

    Today at 68 degrees it is the warmest day in Seattle since 6 months ago. Time to move to a warmer clime.

    • It was fairly chilly here too, but sunny, so I got hot when I was working outside. It’s amazing how much difference it makes when the sun is shining. That might be why Seattle seems cold a lot of the time. I love rainy days now and then, but I have to have sunshine or I get very blue. You won’t hear this southern girl advising you not to move where the weather is warm. 😀

  10. michael

    Maybe that is why my daughter in law, a native Floridian, now living in Atlanta, refuses to consider a move to Seattle. We do have a few cloudy days -about 225 to be more exact, although recently a suburb of south Seattle -Beacon hill was voted most livable suburb for retirement in USA and a small town north of us Port Townsend was voted best small city to retire in, but it does seem that as I move forward in this sectarian age- 60 something that my joints are more susceptible to the coldness. Probably very few southern girls in Seattle and few by choice although is is a tech- center of sorts- Microsoft, Expedia and Amazon to name a few.
    Are you and Jeff planning any cruises as of late? You already did the Alaska, inside passage right. That one is on my bucket list. Last year we did the Friday harbor Orca cruise and got to see some live- Orcas.

    • Michael, I think the Pacific northwest would be a fabulous place to live, except for the weather. Maybe even in spite of the weather. When I was a little girl who had hardly been anywhere, I asked my Daddy (who flew around for a living) where in the country he might want to live if we couldn’t live in Atlanta, and he said he thought probably Seattle. Then once I asked him what part of the USA he found the most beautiful and he said upstate New York in autumn. But having said that, once he lived in the Atlanta area, neither he nor Mama showed any desire to move anywhere else. But every place has things that make it special and unique. About the only reason I can see where it would be fun to live to 200 is if we have instant teleporting where we can instantly beam up to anywhere in the world. Assuming medical care improves enough to render centenarians healthy enough to enjoy travel! 😀

      Yes, Jeff and I are planning a cruise sometime this year, but I’ll keep mum on the details for now…our lives are subject to continual and instantaneous changes, for obvious reasons, and I don’t want to say too much too soon. Of course you know you will be hearing all about it if we do get to sail this year. We did cruise Alaska in 2000 to celebrate our 20th, and we did do an inside passage cruise stopping in Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway, from where we rented a car and drove into the Yukon, definitely the highlight of the trip. I hope someday that we can go inland to Anchorage and Denali. We’ve never been able to see any Orcas or whales up close, but there were several times driving along the central coast when we’d see groups of dolphins jumping in an arc far out in the water — unexpected and quite a thrill.

  11. michael

    Last Thursday it was 81 degrees and set a record for April. As you know tomorrow is the birthday of Beverly McCleary of children’s book fame with the “Ramona the pest” series. I think I did get to read one of them. She wrote the first one in 1950 and she turns 100 tomorrow. That’s right 100.
    Seattle does kind of grow on you though at heart I am much more of a small town person.

    • Michael, thanks so much for making me aware that today is a very special day indeed. I have been so out of the loop that I had no idea it was Beverly Cleary’s birthday. Long before J. K. Rowling broke all the records in children’s literature, Beverly Cleary was a beloved author for probably well over half of American school children from the 1950’s onward. The evergreen and enormous popularity of her books is unparalleled, as far as I know, among all children’s literature (I say this as a retired Youth Services Librarian — of course, so is she, so I am a bit biased). I am overjoyed to learn that she has reached 100 with her trademark sparkle and wit intact. Here’s to changing the world in gently and happy ways!

  12. michael

    She is really something. Queen of children’s literature. Ramona was bewildered by all t hose new words. “Ramona remained in her seat on that first day of class after hearing- “Stay in your seats for the present.” She refused to leave her seat and when asked why by the teacher said, “I am waiting for my present. Where is it?” There were many new words for her and she did not understand all of them. How confusing for the little one.
    Beverly has the record –I believe – of selling over 29 million kids” books in her series and she is a rock star in the children’s writing world and still as sharp as a tack. She wrote Ramona the Pest in 1950 so she was what 34 and me just popping out of the pod. I still get confused by all those words especailly when Merton slips into Latin as he often does-‘In deus adjutorium meum intende.”

    My friend Gordon says I am in the,” here and after” or I am in the here and forgot what I am after. Supposed to get up to 80 today in Seattle.

    • WOW 80 in Seattle in April? It’s going to ruin the city’s reputation for gloomy weather. Yes, Cleary was one of a kind; often imitated, never duplicated. What I find most impressive about her talent is how unassuming and deceptively simple her work is. Alexander McCall Smith is a similar talent for adults, and is almost as prolific (though not quite as widely popular with adults as Cleary is with kids). Ramona will go down in literary history with the same longevity as Tom Sawyer.

  13. michael

    89 degrees yesterday. Broke the record by 10 degrees.Going for three straight 80 days which would also be a record for April.
    Heard an interview about author of a new book on James Brown who was from So,Carolina he was always meticulous to the 9th degree on appearance. Author talked about- being proper and,” looking proper” in the South.” I always feel like a slob in Atlanta with my Seattle grunge attire.- courtesy of Eddie Bauer.

    • Michael, I guess everything is relative. I though grunge attire had taken over the planet. There is a small sector of people who still wear suits in DC. Our next door neighbor is an FBI agent and he wears a suit and tie every day. I still like seeing folks dress up. I guess that’s my age showing.

      I hope all those gorgeous flowers don’t wilt in the heat there in Seattle.

  14. michael

    NPR- puzzle .An area in Virginia area that borders D.C. last t letter- First word an X ,first letter of second word C. No clue.
    It is hard to beat the Seattle in the short four months of nice weather here-May, June, July and August.
    I just bought some seed potatoes and have started the sunflower seeds- a perennial favorite.
    Car talk brothers still make me laugh from the grave – Click and Clack. MASIOILI BROTHERS. I think Clack is still living. In their contest for worst sentences this was a kicker;.
    “Professor Throckmorton knew that if he broke wind in the sound test chamber, he would never hear the end of it.” Brilliant.
    Fascinating story about Shakespeare by Professor from Columbia. Could someone with not a great amount of education, from a lower class, have written such wonderful works? The gentry say no but professor pointed to the power and scope of imagination.

    • Michael, I don’t have a clue about the VA border, unless it has to do with the complex history that I didn’t even know about until Drew told me about it. There is so much more to any place on earth than meets the eye!

      I agree with you that Seattle is ideal in pretty weather. I’m too spoiled by living in NorCal and Hawaii to want to have only four months of nice weather. But I do like the seasons here on the east coast.

      I never even heard of the car talk brothers but I will have to look them up. Re: Shakespeare, I find it amusing when people think structured education is necessary for the nurturing of brilliance. In my opinion (bolstered by some observation) a truly brilliant person might have a hard time NOT being held back by school, which is designed for the masses and thus by sheer practicality, will be at least partially superfluous for the exceptionally gifted person. Because they are so far above their peers and even teachers in intellectual capacity, a genius is often self-taught to at least some extent. Many a genius in history was without much formal education, and often unfit for or frustrated by school at some point (see Albert Einstein, Louis Pasteur, Winston Churchill, Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln etc. etc. etc.) Why would Shakespeare be any different? I side with those who think Shakespeare was simply a linguistic genius who had the opportunity to hone his gift to razor-sharp effect.

  15. michael

    The person interviewed- from Columbia- also mentioned that if Oxford wrote much of Shakespeare work why is that his own work -published under his name- so inferior to that done for or by Shakespeare. Fascinating parallels to the “Search for the Historical Jesus.”Was there a real William Shakespeare? But how could he know all those details about daily court life of the kings and queens? Well he was a genius with a powerful imagination. It is not like painting where you can farm out some of the cloud segments to your students.
    The answer is Fairfax County. Who knew?

    • Wow, I never heard of farming out clouds to students! I am pretty ignorant about art. How funny that I didn’t know Fairfax County was the answer, since we live here! I thought you meant that the first word STARTED with “x” but when I read this, I went back and read your mention of it again and realized I misunderstood it. Fairfax County is a nice place, known for good schools, expensive housing and hideous traffic. But still nice. 🙂

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