The Joy of Sadness

Joy of SorrowA friend just died and so of course I’m very sad.

A little girl cries over her scoop of pistachio ice cream melting on the sidewalk.

How sad is that empty cone? And look at those tears. She hasn’t learned that gravity works against us till our dying day.

A gull with straw in its beak perches on the peak of my roof. Two hours ago I watched it mount its mate to fertilize the egg that would hatch in the nest that no longer sits on my roof because there’s no way a gull family is going to turn my roof into a guano factory this summer as it did last. No way!

Still, it’s sad.

Life never seems to work out, however well we arrange the pieces or play the game. According to most wisdom traditions, that’s good news.

My friend’s passing is sad and yet his absence leaves me with memories of his participation in our writing group over many years. In the empty space he leaves behind I find myself more determined than ever to write well and fast and publish again without delay.

That little girl, is she not the picture of sadness? But aren’t our saddest moments those that loom largest in memory? We look back at them as stepping stones toward our growing up. This ice cream failure can serve her in this way. I hope I’m right.

And a gull with no nest, how sad is that?

PJ circa 1972 2I don’t mind being sad. I don’t disparage sadness as a state of being.

I’ve often been told I look sad, and yet I often fall asleep at night feeling showered by gifts.

Sadness!—if I were a poet I would write an ode to sadness.

Such as the time I received the “Dear John” letter in the mail.

I don’t expect you to believe this but as I laid eyes on the envelope thunder mumbled overhead. As I opened the letter the room fell dark and as I read the deadly words the door slammed shut with a gust of wind that delivered such a deluge of tropical rain hammering on the tin roof that sadness seemed to bury me alive.

How long was I a ghost? You’ll have to ask my then-roommate because it wasn’t long before he couldn’t take it anymore and he tossed me a book, saying, “Read this.” Just tossed it and turned away without bothering to see if I caught it, as if I were a beggar in the gutter.

The scene is vivid in my mind, the trajectory of that book flying towards me, a second in time that became the hinge around which my life turned forever.

To this day, the radical attitude I encountered in that rare little book underpins my understanding of the human condition. It laid the groundwork for my existential experiments in India. It underpins my theory of Story as I present it in my two eBooks, Story Structure to Die For, and Story Structure Expedition—Journey to the Heart of a Story.

And all because sadness turned me into an empty begging bowl, I guess. And because gifts would seem to seek the empty place. Is that true?

If so, is that a paradox? Or does that make eminent sense?

I don’t quite know how to end this. I want to return to my writer friend, Rick (may he rest in peace), and to the girl and the gull and to all lovers who fly the coop. It seems I’m surrounded by events that make me sad, but what I want to say is that I’m sorrow’s willing victim.

I could even say that sorrow likes me. It pounds on my roof. It keeps trying to build a nest up there, for goodness sake.

The mystics say that’s good news.

And that little book that changed my life explains why that might be so. It’s called Positive Disintegration, by Kazimierz Dabrowski. He was no mystic, but he had all the reason in the world to be sad.

Perhaps that’s why he and I became such good friends.

I’m going to write about that next.


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  1. yvettecarol says

    Aha, a little background, a little more context to the fabulous grasp you have on things. Very interesting as always, PJ. :-)

  2. says

    I read your last two blogs this time-the one about running on empty and this one. The idea of “the empty place will be filled” and the miracle of the bar. Wow. Talk about a turn of fortune! And do you believe you entered that bar by accident?
    Your writing of the man with no arms and legs pushing the bowl with his forehead is breath-taking. These experiences are breath-taking!
    There is another blog on the internet about “the meaning of life”, that is ending. It ends with the absurdity of the thing. And the Tarot features the fool. Hmmmm. I am left with the idea that thinking simply boggles the mind. And, if it all (life) makes sense, those moments are crystals in a gumbo of grey.
    I have thought (for a long time) that opposites rule-hence “joy in sadness.”I for one can hardly wait for your next blog about the writing of KAZIMIERZ DABROWSKI!

  3. says

    Yvette… I hadn’t planned on going all autobiographical on my blog, but it seems to be happening, doesn’t it? I’m actually enjoying it, so I guess you’re in store for more. Promise me you’ll let me know when you’ve had enough.

  4. says

    Susan… I’m going to write about how Dabrowski’s ideas took root immediately in my wee brain and caused me to do some wild things. I guess it’s another instance of me being impressionable. I was so impressed by Dabrowski over the next ten years that I received a medal from Poland for my work with the old man. I have lots of Dabrowski stories.

  5. Sarah says

    Rick’s passing has created a gem in you – what better tribute to the creative being who enriched our lives. This beautiful piece is one I shall keep and treasure.

  6. yvettecarol says

    PJ, you can count on me. Even if it’s by my silence. Right now, you feel like an inexhaustible font of wisdom.

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