I began writing this blog while my 89-year-father was in the ICU. In early May, he was diagnosed with metastatic cancer and weeks later his health began to rapidly decline. A day after my hasty arrival in New Orleans, an ambulance whisked him away for a risky emergency surgery. My sobs took my breath away at the prospect of never seeing my dad again, and the real possibility that he’d die alone in a hospital due to Covid restrictions. Thankfully, he survived and came home six days later. Exhale…….
My ten days in New Orleans were an emotional roller coaster with more highs and lows than I’ve ever experienced. I felt deep sorrow and deep fear. My dad has always been my favorite person in the world and I’ve dreaded his passing since I was a little girl. My heart hurt at the thought of losing him. Concurrent with my sadness, I felt deep joy and deep gratitude. I thanked the heavens for blessing me with this father and for our exceptionally close relationship. I felt gratitude for his extraordinary 89 years. And I smiled thinking of his infectious personality and our many shared experiences. These memories made me cry AND filled me with gratitude and love.
The concurrent experience of seemingly opposite emotions can be difficult to grasp. How can we simultaneously feel sorrow and joy? Grief and gratitude? On a rationale level, it’s as if experiencing one negates the other. We can logically tell ourselves we aren’t “supposed” to feel sorrow and joy and ignore the joy. Even worse, we can feel guilty about feeling joyful in the midst of sorrow. But emotions are not governed by logic and are not mutually exclusive. They are part of the tapestry of our human condition and frequently show up together. All of our emotions are real and all can and should be experienced fully. The human container is big enough to hold them all concurrently.
My personal container further expanded the evening I returned to San Diego. My La Mesa bank and frequented neighborhood was up in flames due to a protest gone awry. I was stunned and heartbroken by the images. And I was sickened at images of the racial mistreatment. The next morning, volunteers showed up in droves to clean up and support. Joy from this aspect of humanity and pictures of police officers kneeling with peaceful protesters joined my emotional container. Both were real and I experienced both fully and at the same time.
At any given moment, there are endless things warranting joy and sorrow, anger and gratitude. And, in today’s challenging times the dualities are even more extreme. The key to understanding and experiencing the fullness of life is to allow our container to fill with all of our experiences and emotions. That is full presence.
May our containers continue to hold all of life’s varied experiences, including the small ones right before our eyes. Wishing us all peace, health, safety and change in the right direction.