Accepting Fear and Sadness as Normal Parts of a Good Life

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“Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.” ~Naomi Shihab Nye

I knew it was around that time. When I opened my eyes, it was pitch black outside and I couldn’t yet hear the chickens in the distance waking up. It was 4 a.m. again.

In the past few days, I have loved this gift of jet lag; transitioning to a thirteen-hour time change has afforded me this dark, mysterious quiet that has woken up inside of me the place from which I write—a place that spontaneously arises when the conditions are such that something flows through me.

However, next to me in my bed, my daughter slept soundly. I lay there, paying attention to and feeling my body breathe, sensations arising and falling, and thinking about life—the past, present, and future.

As I lay there, I noticed the sweet ebb and flow of my breath and the glorious feel of the air from the fan washing over my warm and rested body.

Yet on this particular morning, I noticed my belly rumbling and my heart tensing. I placed my hands on my body and noticed.

Nothing in that moment could provoke anything but peace, calm, and gratitude, and yet, wherever you go, there you are. Regardless of how far I am from my physical home, I know that what lives inside of me, travels with me.

I asked these sensations in my body, what do you want me to know? Without hesitation I heard a voice, I am scared.

There was nothing to be scared about in the moment. I was completely safe in every possible way other than being away from home. I didn’t feel any imminent threat or danger to provoke fear.

I stayed curious and started seeing images of my father.

Earlier in the day while on a boat with my teenage daughter, a memory washed over me with an image of him. He loved taking us places and giving us opportunities to explore life. As a teenager, I often and unfortunately remember rolling my eyes at him.

When I was in the seventh grade, he took me and my brother rafting in the Grand Canyon. To get to our raft boats we took a helicopter into the canyon. That summer there had been massive rains, and the water was brown from the mud. This made the canyon waters muddy, which meant that my hair for five days was basically a brown ratted nest. I complained throughout the exquisite adventure that my hair was a mess.

But what I thought about today in that moment on the boat was that he had gifted me curiosity, a little adventure, and a love of life in the moment. I felt a wash of gratitude and appreciation for him. The moment passed.

I continued to lie in bed and stayed present to the sensations in my body. Memories and feelings started coming of when things started changing.

I remember noticing there wasn’t as much food in the pantry, he began sleeping on the couch, he had more doctor’s appointments, and bill collectors started calling. And there were more fights between my parents and between us. Things slowly began to fall apart.

The money from my college savings was gone. My wish for where I wanted to go to school wasn’t possible. And it wasn’t just me that was feeling all of this. It was all seven of his children.

In the course of ten years, my father’s business had crumbled. My dad was an amazing people person and a fantastic salesman, but he wasn’t the best at administrative things. When the economy suffered a setback and changes in his industry began happening, he didn’t have the wherewithal to get support and ask for help.

So we watched the unraveling of his business and felt the impact with no exact words to describe what was happening. Nobody talked about it. We just felt it.

That stirring in my belly was familiar. That ache in my heart was also familiar.

It was a mixture of fear and sadness.

We are told to think positively and everything will work out. Everything will be okay. It sounds good to have that beacon of light as hope. But that wasn’t my experience. He never recovered financially; his health deteriorated over the years and life was exceptionally difficult for him and for his family; his body suffered terribly until he passed away at sixty-five years old.

We don’t often talk about the fact that life sometimes doesn’t work out: people get sick and die early, businesses fail, marriages end, children get sick, and people change. We say that there are lessons in those failures; we will learn and something positive will come of it.

Yes, there is truth in all of that. I live in the life lessons, see the positive in hardships, and trust that blessings are also a part of life, but we don’t also hold that life can be hard and that leaves an imprint inside of us.

On this particular morning, as I lay in bed, I was reminded again of something important. The experience of watching my father lose his business and his health deteriorate over twenty years was scary. He told me in our last conversation before the fall that led to his death that he had entered into a dark hole many years prior.

It was terrifying. It was also sad.

What I continue to learn is that fear and sadness are not independent of each other but are related; it’s not just that I was scared, but I was also sad.

We often want to heal what hurts and feels uncomfortable so that it will go away. Or we pretend that it doesn’t impact the way we live, see the world, are in relationship with others, or even raise our children. But the truth is that hurts like that, experiences like that, alter us. They change the trajectory of our life.

I continue to learn to hold with love and understanding that fear and sadness are sacred parts of me. They ebb and flow. They are welcome to have a home inside of me. I am not flawed or any less human because I carry them with me; in fact, they probably influence my curiosity and my awe for our capacity as humans to heal, grow, and make peace and live with pain in our heart.

Fear still comes. Sadness still comes.

I get scared sometimes when I let uncertainty of the future get the best of me. I can worry too much about what’s to come. Fear that I, too, can lose everything.

I feel my heart ache at what could have been. The grief of all that was lost.

Life can be scary, and life can be sad. It can also be beautiful.

Despite all my father went through, he always looked at the positive. He never complained even when he could barely walk, when he couldn’t take care of his body or afford basic things. He thought that it could always be worse and harder than his situation. 

I think that it was a gift for him, that he could see the positive, because it helped him live with the pain and losses in a dignified way.

The last phone call that I had with my dad, not knowing just a week later he would fall and lose consciousness, I told him, “I am so sorry that life was hard for you.”

He replied, “I lived a good life, Carly.”

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