I went on a couple of trips this month, among them, one to Portland, on a family matter, where I also had a chance to hang out with my old clients and friends I haven't seen in 5 years.
I got to spend time in one of the most amazing book stores I have ever seen, I went to a 2 pm dance on a Sunday to accompany a dear friend where I saw people in their late 70s and 80s kick it up on the dance floor with such pizzazz and grace it made my heart sing!
Watching them dance I couldn't help but notice a beautiful woman whose every movement and every smile seemed to emanate light. She looked to be in her late 60s, maybe early 70s.
As luck would have it, we were introduced. She pulled me into her embrace, wrapped her strong arms around me and held me for a few seconds. We smiled at each other. We began to talk. Before long, she was telling me her story.
She was 84 years old, a widow 3 times, she had been coming to this club for over 15 years, and... she had lost her daughter to cancer but a few months ago.
I gasped, but she waved away my "I am so sorry...",
a genuine movement, not a fake one.
"My daughter had such a great life! she said.
"She did EVERYTHING she wanted to do. Everything. She just went for it. She traveled everywhere she wanted to go, she didn't let anything stop her.
"And she was a great person. She touched many lives. I am so proud of her. There were several hundred people at her memorial service, so many people brought cookies..."
At this, she broke into laughter and proceeded to tell me more about the cookies.
I did a double take.
Was this conversation for real? To be talking about cookies at the memorial service for a daughter you have just lost? A daughter you loved so dearly? To have her be taken from you by cancer so early... and to be so filled with joy?
Was it denial, the first stage of grief? Was it the way the woman was coping with her unimaginable loss?
Or was her light-heartedness real? Coming from a place of deep peace, sensing the mystery behind everything?
The more I listened and watched, the more real she felt to me.
Was it truly possible to transcend your grief that fast?
She invited us to her home and I had a chance to spend more time with this remarkable woman.
Yes, she was genuine, and yes, she WAS celebrating her daughter's life. There was no sadness, no quickly brushed away tears, no suffering, no hidden sighs.
In fact, she was celebrating LIFE, pretty much all the time. Without effort, without reminders to self to focus on the positive.
She simply saw her life and ALL LIFE as a miracle, and she was grateful for every moment.
She was 84 years old, vibrant, alive and fabulous.
She was saying YES to everything.
There is no moral to this story. I know that each one of you will draw your own conclusions.
For me, two things stand out.
1. How much joy she drew from the fact that her daughter got to do and to experience everything she had set out to do.
That she had said "yes" to herself, took risks, had adventures, acted on her dreams, had courage to pursue them and did not postpone anything.
2. The true joy this amazing woman has been exuding with her very breath. And not in spite of adversity, but as a state of being.
Here is something I learned.
If you want to experience Joy, real, effervescent, contagious joy, you have to allow yourself to feel (and to feel deeply) everything else that also comes your way.
You can't numb the so-called "difficult" feelings in favor of the "good" ones. It doesn't work this way.
If you avoid feeling something that's hard to feel, for example, anger, rage, hate, hurt, pain... If you stuff them or deny you even have them, this denial will spread to all else.
And it will be impossible to feel deeply happy, serenely peaceful, joyously loving, and all the rest of the wonderful, fabulous, amazing emotions available to us, human beings, to experience.
I am certain that this 84 year old, 3 times widowed mother of a daughter who has just died of cancer stumbled on this truth long ago.
When hit by loss, she felt the pain of loss, when hit by rage, she felt the fury of rage.
But she didn't stay there. That's how she was able to get to the other side. That was the secret to her happiness.
The difficult feelings are ALWAYS followed by the light ones.
That's why we have a saying "there is light at the end of the tunnel."