This weekend was Thanksgiving, which in my humble opinion is a pretty fantastic holiday. The entire festivities center around cooking, eating, and spending quality time with friends and family – pretty much three of my favorite things in the entire world. It’s also the official kick-off to the holiday season, which truly is the most wonderful time of the year – traditions, time with friends and family, yummy treats – the best.
Perhaps the thing I love most about holidays is that they are a built-in time to reflect – to pause in the midst of everyday, humdrum, commute-work-eat-Netflix– rinse-repeat life to think about deeper things.
Thanksgiving, of course, is a time to pause and be grateful and I’ve seen some beautiful posts floating around FB on gratitude – reminders of things I know I take for granted – health, family, friends. When I paused to think about what I was thankful for this year, the usual suspects floated across my mind, but as I reflected on this past year I realized what I’m most grateful for is pain.
I know that sounds counter intuitive and weird and borderline unhealthy but hear me out. As I reflect on all that’s happened this year, I flash to certain scenes – I think about being holed up in a conference room at work crying my eyes out because a dear friend suffered an unspeakable loss – and repeating the whole episode 6 months later, when another dear friend suffered the same loss. I think about the months of waiting and worrying and no answers of a health scare – going from feeling healthy and strong and running my first half marathon to dealing with the possibility of needing heart surgery (I don’t and I’m fine – but those months of waiting and not knowing were painful and scary and hard). I think about sitting across from a dear friend whose marriage shattered before her eyes – not because of anything she did or didn’t do, but because this world is broken and fallen and sometimes we hurt each other. I think about talking to my uncle on the phone, hearing about my grandma being in hospice, and being sad for her and for him and also missing my dad something fierce. I think about long talks with the people I love most, hearing their stories of fresh heartbreak, fear, disappointment, loss, shattered dreams and feeling the weight of their sorrow in my own heart.
At one point this summer it felt like everyone I know and love was going through something heartbreaking and I declared “I just can’t handle any more pain…I’m sick of shitty things happening to the people I love. I’m done – no more.” It felt true at the time – it was true at the time – I had reached my quota for suffering in my own life and the lives of people I love.
Here’s the thing though – in the same moment that I felt I couldn’t handle any more pain I had a thought flash through my brain like a lightning blot, true and sure and unequivocal: “This is the price you pay for loving people.”
I have a CS Lewis quote printed on my desk that my Dad gave to me many years ago, and it says this:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
I experience pain because I get to experience love – if I wasn’t so damn lucky to have people in my life whom I love dearly, I wouldn’t experience this much pain. There are only so many terrible things that can happen to me personally – just statistically speaking I have one body that can get diseases, one heart that can get broken, one set of life circumstances where things can go awry – it’s when you start adding all these other hearts and lives and hopes and dreams and relationships that belong to other people into the mix, the odds of a skipping-through-sunshine-and-daisies life go way, way down. It’s when you enlarge the circle of love and feel other people’s pain and joy that you open yourself up to more hurt and heartbreak and loss – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
To be clear, I am not thankful for the circumstances that have caused my friends and family pain – I’m angry and heartbroken and grieving with them over the losses and disappointments and heartbreak. I wish I had a magic wand and I could undo it, smooth the way, replace it with sunshine and rainbows and so much joy. I can’t though, so all I can do is sit with them in the dark and trust with them that a new day is coming, that the sun will shine again – and in so many of their lives it already has – new life has come, new hope and new beginnings and the whisper of better things to come.
I’m thankful for pain because it means I get to love – and having people in my life I get the privilege of hurting for and with is more than worth the price of pain. So while I hope and pray and believe that the year ahead will be full of joy – in my life and the lives of all the people I care deeply about – I’m also not afraid of some pain, because it means that I live and that I love – and for that I give thanks.
Happy Thanksgiving indeed.