“Against my better judgment, I feel certain that somewhere very near here—the first house down the road, maybe—there’s a good poet dying, but also somewhere very near here somebody’s having a hilarious pint of pus taken from her lovely young body, and I can’t be running back and forth forever between grief and high delight.”
–J. D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey
This is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books. It stuck with me immediately and has continued to resonate with me for years, even though out of context it sounds a bit odd. Even in context it might be odd by some standards, but if you are the type of reader who appreciates some good Salinger, I think you understand perfectly. Even if not, I think we can all relate to this feeling in our everyday lives…the feeling that some days you just bounce between those two extremes on the spectrum of emotion, grief and joy, and sometimes the oddest things bring you joy in the midst of your grief. It just seems to go that way in this world…such major highs and lows, so many joys, but so many tragedies.
Sometimes when grievous things happen, I find myself wondering why, but at the same time, I don’t really dwell on the “why.” The photo above was taken on Sunday in an herb garden that my cousin planned and planted several years ago. It has been almost half a year since a rare and aggressive cancer took his health and his life.
I find myself thinking of him in some small way every day since, and sometimes I do wonder, “why?” But mostly, I don’t, at least not as much as before. As young children, we often ask “why” repeatedly. As children, we are curious, inquisitive, learning in high volumes. As children, we need to ask “why” to start building connections between everything in this great big world we have newly joined. As an adult, however, I find that the greatest lesson I have been slowly learning in the past several years is that I will never understand everything. Some things don’t have a clear answer to the “why.” Some things aren’t meant to be understood.
I still feel stressed, anxious, or deeply grieved by some things. But I have found a remarkable peace in letting go of “why.” My faith is definitely the major influence in this mindset and this peace I have regarding hard and heartbreaking things, and I really couldn’t imagine having this extent of calmness in the face of certain tragedies without that belief that there is a God who is perfect and holy and cares for all of His creation, despite all the bad things in this fallen world. I want others to come to this same peace, but I’m not very good at talking about God to others because my faith is so deeply a part of my being that I just don’t know where to start or how to word it. Instead, I just try to live a thoughtful life through which I can pass this peace and joy to others in some small way.
So when I think of tragedies in the world, some affecting many people, such as the recent multitude of natural disasters or the shooting in Las Vegas, or some affecting a smaller group, such as losing a family member much too soon, I don’t dwell on the why. I believe things happen for a reason, or maybe weren’t “meant” to happen, but have positives even despite tragedy. But I’m not meant to understand it all. I’m only meant to love my family and do my best to work on my tiny presence in the world, through the joy and the grief. Remember to always look for the light in the darkness, because there are always glimmers of hope. If your heart has been heavy lately, I hope this can encourage you.
“Grief will succeed joy, and joy, grief, just as night follows day. This is how the Father of lights has established the path of those who are being saved. Just have patience and hope: engrave these in the depths of your heart—with these, all adversities will be faced.” – Elder Ephraim of Arizona