This past week, I felt suffering all around me.
My friend’s mom was diagnosed with brain cancer. My parents’ friend was moved to palliative care, making them face their own mortality. I visited the grave of my grandaunt—one of the most important people in my life—and cried my eyes out.
A teenage girl my brother-in-law knew got shot and killed. My friends in Israel are experiencing a whole new level of fear for their lives. My partner and I have been trying to conceive for so long that we started the process of finding out what’s wrong.
When I tried to summarize my week for my therapist earlier today, I thought about how natural it is to feel the way I do right now, considering all the suffering that’s surrounding me. The feeling of helplessness that all this creates in me, and the hopelessness that comes with seeing people disrespect each other and have so little humility—not only for their own lives but for those of others too—is so disheartening.
Life is hard. And it’s joyful. And then it’s over. Maybe it’s as simple and humbling as that.
One of the biggest lessons my grandaunt taught me while she was still alive was this:
There is a place for both suffering and joy.
Even though she faced forced migration early in life, had to watch her daughter die young and her husband shortly after, missed home most of her life, and fought cancer twice, she always made everyone feel accepted and loved. And her sense of humor lit up the room.
When I think back on it now, strength and joy are the things she embodied that I want to cultivate most in myself. They are how I want to honor her heritage.
The thing is, suffering will always find us. It’s a part of life. We don’t have to look for it, and there’s no sense in running from it either. The older we get, the more experiences we’ll have, including hard and heartbreaking ones.
We’ll go through them personally, and we’ll watch people we love suffer so much that it’ll nearly break us. Without our own doing, suffering will come and go, like waves hitting the shore. We can be passive, lean back, and let them arrive.
But what we can’t be passive about is finding joy.
We need to be mindful and acknowledge the experiences, connections and moments that make us happy. We have to be conscious when there are periods in our lives when the ocean lies still and appreciate the moments that are easier, lighter. And we need to actively seek out the things that bring us joy.
Spending time with loved ones
Making our favorite cake
Doing meaningful work
Moving our bodies
Petting a dog
Putting our faces in the sun
Visiting a place we love
Whatever makes your heart happy, even if for a moment, is where you can plant the seeds of joy.
I believe that there’s a need for discipline and action when it comes to creating space for joy in our lives. Let’s find it in ourselves by understanding that we don’t have to earn joy, but that we innately deserve it.
Because, as I learned from my grandaunt, that’s how you have even the slightest chance of having some sense of humor and a smile on your face by the end of it all.
If you feel called, share in the comments what brings you joy. Perhaps we can inspire each other.~