Reflections on Sadness

Before dawn I was woken by a very sad little girl.
Lately I’ve noticed a strange melancholy in both my children that I remember in myself around the same age. I’m not sure if children pick up on sadness from living in a house with chronic illness, or from the depression of the parents (more likely), but it deepens my own sadness that this seems to be a legacy I have passed on. My daughter in particular asks questions such as, “are you and Papa going to die the way your mom and dad did?”
My husband says, “no, of course not. We will always be with you.”
I, unwilling to trust the backhandedness of life, say, “I hope not,” but try to reassure her she will always be taken care of.
And, I think grimly, no wonder she’s sad. I wonder if I should be so forthright and realistic with her, precocious as she is at age five. I wonder which is kinder: the promise we can’t keep, or the certain reality that one day we will die, though metaphysically, of course we will always be with her. We made her precious tiny human self, and so are ever and always connected: inexorably part of each other. Can she be secure in our intangible love when she craves the security of our physical presence?
This morning she huddled next to me in bed, crying that she would miss her brother when he grows up. Her mean older brother, who teases her, picks on her, calls her names, and is subversively jealous of her, in spite of our best efforts to teach and encourage him otherwise. She will miss him, and dreads being parted from him.
Such is the nature of sweet spirits.
I know so many young women who carry a heavy burden of sadness. And so many of them, too, are sweet spirits, undeserving of so much sorrow.
After being disappointed with my efforts to comfort my daughter, I carried a trace of sorrowful miasma with me through the rest of the day. Going on social media deepened it until I could wear it like a coat.
Finally, my ponderings outweighed my personal reserve, and I wrote a post about it. Almost immediately, there was a reaction, with surprised and almost irritated me. Then I realized it was one of the young women I know, one who has more than her own share of sorrow to carry. She was sharing in ours. I was deeply touched by the simple expression of an emoji reaction–though as a rule, I am dismissive, almost scornful of trying to relate through emoji expressions. This was different.
It brought my thoughts back to my recent blog on kindness. It made me think how valuable those small gestures are, especially when we are suffering with our own burdens, fighting our own demons of depression, poverty, frustration…how much we can give each other.
My daughter and I got through our day, and it would have been hard to tell she began it in tears. Both children played–reasonably nicely–together, and went to bed peacefully and happily–after I read them three or four bedtime stories, and completed our evening ritual of evening prayers, kisses, hugs, tucking in, and one last “good night” prayer.
And as the small gesture I received meant so much to me, I try to bring a little more mindfulness to my parenting, of all those little things that mean so much to children. Especially since I won’t be here forever.

It used to worry when when my children expressed sadness, but as I considered it more, I realized several things:

My husband and I both come from melancholy families. It seems a certain amount of pensive melancholia is inescapable.

But more significant is the role of sadness in the human experience. too little acknowledgement of sadness in our lives could be denial. too much, a sign of depression.

But in general, sorrow is merely part of the human experience, rolling over us in waves or cycles much like any other human emotion, coming to go again, to come again, and so on.

I think what is more telling about us is how we use that experience to relate to others. Knowing sadness ourselves, do we hunker down around it, feeling sorry for ourselves, or do we use that point of reference to reach out to others, extending empathy to them in any small way we can?

Thank you, my friend.

 

Spring [Personal] Discipline

The winter is so far from wearing to its end. I look out the window and see three feet of snow, but the sun is out and there is a freshness on the air when I venture to crack a window or open the door to call my children in, their noses and cheeks sufficiently red and snow gear shining wet across the yard. At least the promise of spring is in the wind, though still far off. I glance at our liturgical calendar and note the number of weeks left until Great Lent, the preparatory time before the greatest annual celebration of our faith, Pascha.
I have read that in many countries, Russia and Eastern Europe most notably, this 40-day period of abstinence from consuming animal products (among other things) was a practical means of getting through the last phase of winter, stretching a family’s supply of farmed goods until the weather relented enough to begin spring planting. The practice is threefold, however: we conserve what we have, but in order that we can give to those in need. Also: we pray and meditate as we work on increasing virtue and diminishing vice, and so draw nearer to Christ in preparation to celebrate His resurrection.

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Another Spring, without so much snow!

As a newly converted Orthodox Christian, the Lenten Fast seemed a horrible ordeal to be undergone. Admittedly, I was spared the first three years of participation because I was either pregnant or breastfeeding. But the first year I was eligible to participate, I was floored by the intensity of the experience. It also turned out my health was not going to allow me to eat vegan for such a duration without serious consequences. As a result, my Spiritual Director urged me to focus on the spiritual and giving aspects of the time, which were almost harder. Giving is a joy to me, and I can almost never do as much as I would like, but increased prayer and weeding out some of my worse habits proved incredibly challenging. And, after a time, I realized it is supposed to be exactly that. The challenge of leaving one’s comfort zone is immensely stretching. Being accountable to a priest/Spiritual Director ensures accountability. And I have noticed that, especially at first, the spiritual undercurrents in one’s life always make it harder, for me at least. I am always hit hardest when and where I am weakest, and usually just when I think I am starting to do well. I am beginning to find it almost worth a laugh. And I am beginning to settle into the rhythm of the Fasting seasons (they average one per season, of differing duration–Great Lent is the longest). So now, I find myself anticipating the change in the seasons, the change in spiritual rhythms, the outward practices in aid of the inner progress.
The first week of Great Lent is Clean Week, an excellent precursor to good old Spring Cleaning, but with the intent of clearing out all our junk, all we don’t need, and all our grime, personal and physical. In addition, things that we don’t need may be useful to others, and again we are encouraged to give/donate instead of hoard/clutter (a greater and harder act for some of us). We are also encouraged not to spend unnecessarily during Great Lent, to be less materialistic, and again, help those in need with either our time, talent, or resources (either money or “stuff”).
This year, something in me started Clean Week over a month early (perhaps because I usually start when everyone else does, and am still cleaning when Pascha rolls around), and interestingly, something in me followed step by taking a long, quiet look inward. Time to uproot the unnecessary and harmful, time to prepare the soil for the season of planting and growth. Time for the new season, the new “year” in the natural sense of things, and a time where we celebrate Life anew. Glory to God!
Though, knowing me and my house, I may still be cleaning when Pascha rolls around…