"That which does no earthly good cannot be heavenly minded." R. Rivera

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Pain Now is Part of the Happiness Then.

By Ruben Rivera© 7 January 2011

We all know what it means to lose someone dear to us, and 2010 saw many people pass away. Some in internecine and international conflicts. Some due to crime. Some from destitution. Others to illness or old age. And still others as the result of the break up of marriages and other relationships. The latter, psychologists tell us, can be more painful than physical death because unreconciled relationships often harbor feelings of hurt, anger, guilt, and regret, whereas warmth and fondness accompany (and help to mitigate) the passing of healthy relationships.

Many years ago, when my wife's mom and dad passed away within two weeks of each other (that's right: two funerals two weeks apart), it was the greatest loss she had ever experienced. I suffered to see her suffer so. And yet, whatever I said in my attempt to comfort her could not have been profound or eloquent. For I cannot remember a single word. It is supremely difficult when someone who loves written and spoken words is at a complete loss for them.

Great loss will do that. Sometimes, words come only after perspective. And perspective is not the product of one event, even the event of profound loss. Perspective is not the prisoner of any one historical moment. Perspective is accumulated across much time and many events and experiences, and not just one's own. We learn from others too.

Several days ago I received an email notice that a Christian and former professor from my university died this past Christmas day 2010, after falling from his roof while trying to clear it of snow. Died. On Christmas day. Even if I knew the family, I wouldn't have the slightest clue what to say. "Oh, Lord, grant somehow this man's surviving family a sense of the nearness of your presence." I did not know what else to say, so I kept praying that, over and over. I have learned that repetitious prayer need not be meaningless. (Cf. Matthew 6:7; John 17)

On her blog, a dear friend laments the recent death of 1980s R&B icon Tina Marie. This time my loss for words was compounded by the fact that I did not follow Tina Marie. But my friend experienced the loss, and I understood it. Some people find it overblown or even silly when others weep and engage in public vigils at the passing of pop culture icons like Princess Diana, Kurt Cobain, or Tina Marie. Maybe they are too removed, generationally, to care. Maybe they feel that the rich and famous are on the gravy train, even after they're dead, so why do they need further attention? Maybe they fear admitting that their own passing would probably go relatively unnoticed.

Me, I understand the sadness and sense of loss when cultural symbols die. I cried when The Beatles' John Lennon was murdered. I know, he was "just a rock musician," and even he once said that it wasn't important. I'm not saying he was Gandhi. But all I kept hearing was his song "All You Need is Love," and I couldn't help thinking, this guy tried to tell the world something and what does he get? Dead.

Fast forward (idiom of the analog age). The Beave's mom, June Cleaver (Barbara Billingsley) died in 2010. So did Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger, Hawaii Five-O's James McArthur ("Book 'em, Danno!"), Easy Rider Dennis Hopper, and many more. I didn't know them personally, any more than I knew John Lennon. But now that they're gone, something is missing. In me. I feel it personally. But there's more. For it occurs to me: when the cultural symbols, icons and trends of our youth pass into history, how long before it's our turn? I'm not too thrilled to discover my selfishness.

But even that discovery is the result of perspective. So is the discovery that even in the midst of such endings, I am happy at the realization of the many things in my past that have contributed to who I am. Many things in my past were far from positive. (Scar? That's not a scar. I'll show you a scar.) But even most of those would have redeeming contributions. Who would have thought? That too is the result of perspective.

I am reminded of a powerful line in the wonderful 1993 film "Shadowlands" (with Anthony Hopkins as C.S. Lewis and Debra Winger as Joy Davidman). "We can't have the happiness of yesterday without the pain of today. That's the deal." (Joy Davidman)

Not long after their unconventional marriage, Joy died from cancer. And Mister "Pain-is-God's-megaphone-to-rouse-a-deaf-world" suffered a level of pain he had experienced only one other time in his life: when as a boy his mother died. The author of many Christian and childrens' classics, a true man of the word, was lost for words. So he depended on Joy's: "The pain now is part of the happiness then."

The pain of missing Joy remained with him the rest of his life. But Joy's life had enriched his, and he was a wiser and more complete human being for it.

So 2010 and all the years before it are gone. But we must continue on into 2011 and beyond; and we will (with God's help) continue to invest our hearts and energies in people and worthy pursuits until we all one day lose them, or until they lose us.

All that we can do to prepare ourselves and others for the days of pain then, is to cultivate a legacy of happiness now. That's the deal.


bunny said...

My favorite quote is from Mark Twain, "People are dying who never died before" and when I had a conversation with my daughter who didn't understand it and explain to her that we think we are immortal, that we are here forever too busy living and interacting, loving and feeling..that either we forget or just don't think of anyone dying... let alone ourselves.

Happy New Year to both of you's!

love ya,

Fete et Fleur said...

I'm hoping for a year of LIFE. Beautiful post dear brother.

Miss you!

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Wow. I love words, you know that more than anyone. But I am at loss here, but all that I can ever do to show you that I understand is to continue to LIVE with you, to SHOW you, and to ACT according to my conviction that the JOY and the SORROW are intertwined, and I thank God that WE are in this magnificent journey, TOGETHER.


"Create Beauty" said...

Your words ring true. I have been pondering our lives these past few months after the death of my father-in-law. Realizing that (selfishly) I had felt that since this man, so much older than I, was still alive, that meant I was farther from death. Now that he no longer abides on this earth, my husband and I are the "older" ones in our family now. And that means.... our turn is next! It really hit me.

What will I do with the time I have left here? What meaning will be written in the ages of time by the One who gave me life?

May it be for His glory, or else it is meaningless. LOVE is the eternal treasure...

Ruben, your beautiful Anita has blessed my life with love. You two are so gifted and well-designed by the One who gives you life and talent. May God richly bless your new year... with glimpes of the heavenly!

~ Violet

Debbie said...

Great post Ruben. That is exactly how I felt about Teena Marie passing so young (only 54) ... she was my counterpart, my peer, even though I never knew her in life her music was a huge part of it. She GAVE me something. When she died, it felt exactly as you put it ... wow, people my age are dying now ... when will I be next? When John Lennon was murdered, I felt different. I felt as if someone had killed my dad. That sounds so silly, I know, but the Beatles were such a HUGE HUGE part of my life that the memories they left me are deeply a part of who I am. My brother and I will hear a certain Beatles tune and just look at each other and say at the same time "...the pink house" ... because that's what they remind us of. When we lived in that pink house in East L.A. The way your old friend and professor died is too tragic. On Xmas day. That will definitely leave you speechless. And Anita's loss ... I don't know how anyone can survive something like that so young and continue to be an amazing, joyful human being who loves life.

As always, I learn something from your posts. I hope you and Anita and a wonderful Xmas and New Year. God bless you both, now and always.

Your friend -

jivory7 said...

As you said, words come with perspective and thus I have very few. I haven't lost anyone close to me thus far, yet I found comfort in your words. Cultivating happiness now sounds like a good start in preparing for the pain of the future. Thank you.

-Justin I.

Angelsdoor * Penny said...

Dear Ruben
I have visited this beautiful and touching post many times, only to read, re-read and leave you.

Anita's loss breaks my heart. I am so happy she has you in her life.. You truly are soul mates. A match made in heaven.

It will be 2 years tomorrow that my beloved lost his 3 year battle with cancer. I miss him every day. My wish is to live life with the strength and courage that he carried with him. This is where my Angel painting evolved from. It may sound silly but it gives me great comfort, and somehow connected. Call it therapy if you will. It gives me peace.

Thank you for your beautiful heart dear friend.. God bless you and dear Anita
With love and deep admiration

Angelsdoor * Penny said...

Dear Ruben
Your visit and heartfelt words this morning touched my heart. Thank you dear friend.
Bless you

M.A.the2nd said...

Ruben .... astonishing! Real, raw and so true. We live now and feel happy for certain moments but are we ready for the future and what it will bring us. I often feel that I want to hold on but the moment of happiness is fleeting. I have seen the movie "Shadowlands" and I loved it. I don't always think though that as we get older things get worse. For poor Joy and so many people who suffer cancer the past is, of course, always better and they had that happiness to remember ... their legacy. I also know that mortality is something that hovers just slightly beyond our parameters .... it is there always but we always feel like it isn't REAL.

My husband is a surgeon and deals daily with cancer and talking about it with me helps him deal with the reality of telling his patients that there is now a finite date to their existence and that if he can do anything to ease their pain and that of their family he will. I used to be a registered nurse and I have seen tragedy and trauma and terrible things as a young girl and I feel blessed that I was able to have that experience.

I know what you mean about John Lennon ... to me his best song was "Imagine". Imagine no wars, no religion .... a brotherhood of man .... Imagine that indeed. If only we could aspire to that and rise above the grievances that attach themselves like leeches to so many attempts to bring people together.

I feel that we can be happy now and in the future .... because each day brings new horizons and new friendships .....

best wishes
M.A. the 2nd

M.A.the2nd said...

Hello Ruben .... Thank-you so much for your lovely comments. That means a great deal to me. I forgot to join so I have just become a follower of your new blog. I hope lovely Anita is okay ...she is so special and I wish I could give her a big hug and tell her it will be okay. I have left a little message on her blog as well.
best wishes

Debbie said...

Ruben, it's been much too long. PLEASE PLEASE post something soon. I so look forward to your words of wisdom. Love to Anita!