The Pain We Carry While Reaping Great Joy

I’ve been limping around for roughly a month now.  Physically limping, as opposed to emotionally limping, which seems to happen far more often.  Somehow, I sprained my ankle, though I cannot recall how I did it.  It’s part of me now.  My husband keeps telling me to get a brace or to stay off of it or some such nonsense, but we all know those things won’t happen.  Because we carry our pain.  The pain we carry.

My kids have been having bad dreams lately, dreams about being left behind.  Either by myself or our nanny, they somehow get separated on the bus or the train and are left behind.  It guts me to hear them describe it.

When I was young, I remember this recurring dream I would have of being in the backseat of my moms old brown Ford.  I mean, this was a dinosaur of a big car.  And in the dream, she was driving and I was in the backseat and as she would turn a corner, the car would split in half.  I would stay at the stoplight stuck in the back half of the separated car as I watched my mom drive away in the front end of the car not realizing she had left me behind.

Why do I still remember those dreams from almost 40 years ago?  Because that deep-seated need to be with my people, to feel safe, is a lifelong yearning.  That’s why you read those stories of families finding each other after decades of searching or not even knowing the other was still out there.  Of animals who cross the country to find their people.  Of twins being separated at birth and when they do come together, the soul recognition is so strong, it’s a wonder they were ever apart.

The pain we carry.

I read this lovely New York Times article about Emma Morano – the oldest person in the world – today and what she left behind.  This part hit my heart like a ton of bricks:

She was devout, wearing her rosaries for decades, though she did not wear them recently because her nieces, her principal caretakers, were afraid she might choke on them. She hung the rosaries next to her bed, near a photo of her only child, a son who lived from January to August 1937.

That photograph was buried with her, according to her wishes.

She lived for 117 years. She died on April 15.  From 1937 until 2017 – 80 years – she carried around that photo of her baby who lived for only 8 months.  

I didn’t know Ms. Morano.  I do not know her pain, but I imagine it broke her heart every time she thought of her baby.  I can only hope she found some release as she was buried with the photo of her heart outside her body.

The pain we carry.

We are all in pain.  We are all in recovery from something.  We are all walking around just trying to get through and if we are really lucky, we find people who either have the same pain or at least understand our pain.  That’s communion.

I wrote this a few years ago, but writing this post made me remember – Stroking your scars. I cannot imagine living with no scars.  No marks from pain or from a life lived.  I cannot imagine being a blank slate.  I carry my pain as I carry my joy.  I feel it every single day and that is the only way I get all the things. It’s the only way I get to be happy joyous and free.  It’s the only way I get to live.

If I live to be 117 (PLEASE NO), may I have lived as simply and purely as Ms. Morano up there.  She had little, but she had much.  She left with a picture of her baby.

What I do glean from this post of hers is that pain can last a lifetime.  A long, long lifetime.  It doesn’t go away all together but it lessens.  My friends who have lost babies, never had babies, lost babies to sickness or accidents or overdoses, lost babies they never were able to have….that stays a lifetime and I honor that.

The pain we carry.

When I look around and see the faces of people walking among us, I know there is deep, deep heartache and longing.  There is regret and sadness.  It makes me question why most of us do go on. How do we go about the business every single day of carrying on?

I need to feel incredible pain in order to fully feel indescribable joy.   That’s just how this works.  I don’t know why, but the more loss and pain and heartache I experience, the more empathy and understanding and gratitude I gain.  It takes an incredibly strong snowflake indeed to get up and walk through this life each day.  I see you.

When I look around again, I see enormous, gigantic joy.  I see quiet courage.  I see people just getting out of bed in the morning when it’s actually the hardest thing in the world to do.

My kids are learning about empathy and what it means to try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes – to feel what they are feeling.  My son has taken to recognizing when someone gets hurt and saying, “That must be very painful” or “He was feeling very sad or mad because…..”  as though he really feels what others are feeling.  My daughter asks me often if the blisters (marks on my feet from years of wearing horrible shoes) on my feet hurt, and I say, “No sweetheart.  They are old and worn in, they might look like they hurt, but they rarely actually do.” Because I don’t want them to think their old mama is in pain.  I’m not in pain, at least not unbearable pain.  And it’s all relative, right?

Empathy is something this world could use a hell of a lot more of and it’s free.  I’m passing it on.


I wonder what would happen to us if we all peered into our preschool classrooms.  Which kid were you? The funny one.  The sad one.  The wicked smart one. The scared one. The excited and full of joy one.  All of the above?  I watch all these kids and wonder who they will become. Will they keep that wonder and optimism and excitement about the world, or will it be beaten out of them the way it has been for so many of us adults.  I wonder how we would all gather together for hugs and parties and community the way this preschool class does.  I wonder when it all changed.  When was that defining moment or series of moments that crushed us?

Even if we have been crushed, even if we have lost that sense of hope, we can get it back.  I’m telling you as someone who was completely hopeless and ready to end it all, we can find it again if we stick around long enough.  We may not live to 117, but we can have a good long life full of what is important and simple.  Not over-complicate things.

It’s not my place to delude anybody into thinking life is easy or pleasant.  Most of the time, it just isn’t. But when you get those moments of incredible sweetness – of watching 4 year olds draw their new cat a card – something wonderful and too pure to be real and contained, you gotta soak that up.  THAT is what I focus on to keep my feet moving.  My tired, blistered, sprained ankle feet.  It’s not my job to sugar coat.  It’s my job to encourage with realism and hope.

I want everyone to know they can walk through this pain and come out feeling more joy than they ever knew existed.  Not all the time and not on your schedule, but joy unlike anything you’ve known.  Had you not felt such pain, you’d not know this bliss.  

Every time I look at our new beloved kitty, Bella, I think of those I’ve lost.  I miss my Sally Boy and Eliza Jane every day.  But would I trade a moment I had with them to spare me this pain?  No.  Not even close.  To love hard means to lose hard.

The pain we carry while reaping great joy.

We are all carrying pain.  We are all trying our best to get through.  I will do my best to sprinkle in the joy and the gratitude every chance I get.  And if you see me flailing, throw some my way, will ya?  This is a team effort.

My demons are mine, but I can share this load and not inflict them on others.

I went to kiss my babies goodnight before I went to sleep last night as that’s when I let the day go and grab all the gratitude and my baby girl was laughing in her sleep.  She was laughing in her sleep.  Hearty laughter that made me want to snuggle in and look into her brain.  THAT is where these kids are coming from.  THAT is where I want to come from.

I’m looking forward to a long Summer full of adventure and chaos.  Limping though I may be, it reminds me to take care of myself and respect my body a bit more. I’ve got to keep up with these two balls of explosive joy.


The pain we carry while reaping great joy.  


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