Some things in life are easy to accept; spilled milk, a burned dish, or getting the wrong order at your favorite coffee shop. Others are more difficult to accept; a broken bone, harsh words that hurt, canceled plans with a friend. Then, there are times when life gives you the unacceptable; the sudden death of a loved one, being abandoned by a parent or partner, a devastating medical diagnosis.
When things are easy, we know what to do- we clean up the milk, make dinner reservations, or we reschedule that lunch date. However, when life gives us the unacceptable, times stands still and races right by us all at once. It is difficult to know what direction we should move in. Where ever we go, the pain and grief seem to follow us. The unacceptable is just that- something our whole mind, body, and soul can not process or take in. We try to push it aside and mask the pain with denial, anger, or by destructively self-medicating.
Ironically, the only way to heal and learn from our suffering is to accept it. We must hold it all, the grief, pain, and regrets. Inviting these emotions in help us find the lessons they will teach us. I love how Ellen Bass says it in her poem, The Thing Is.
The Thing Is
to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.
When the unacceptable comes, and it will, Bass gives us a road map on how to accept it. Yes, we need to grab the suffering and pain with love, but first, we need to feel it all. We need to feel it with our whole self- our belly, our hands, our lungs. Then slowly, we will learn to accept what life gives us, whether it be pain or healing or grief or joy. We will be able to look life square in the face and love it again.
I leave you with this blessing, For Suffering by John O’Donohue
May you know serenity
When you are called
To enter the house of suffering.
May a window of light always surprise you.
May you be granted the wisdom
To avoid false resistance;
When suffering knocks on the door of your life,
May you glimpse its eventual gifts.
May you be able to receive the fruits of suffering.
May memory bless and protect you
With the hard-earned light of past travail;
To remind you that you have survived before
And though th darkness now is deep,
You will soon see the approaching light.
May the grace of time heal your wounds.
may you know that though the storm might rage,
Not a hair of your head will be harmed.