When I was seven years old my little Pekinese dog, Whitey Ford, died. I was devatated. I had to take a personal day from second grade to mourn. I remember the ride home from the vet. I was sobbing. My little brother was trying to console me. He said, “It’s ok Richie. Whitey’s in heaven now with grandpa…I am sad too.” I responded, “Well you aren’t crying.” He said very plainly, “Well I’m not THAT sad.” My mom retold that story over and over (and over and over). She aid she was trying not to laugh at the conversation and my brother’s response.
Over the last several months there has a lot of change in my life. After building a life, and career, in Chicago for eight years I was moved back to the west. I learned a lot about life and myself in those years. It was sad to be moving away from great friends. We drove out of town at 4:30 am. The early start was to avoid having to drive 17 feet of U-haul in the morning rush, and to make it all the way to Denver…yep 1,000 miles in a day!
During the drive out of Chicagoland, Illinois, the Central Time Zone, and the Midwest I had quite a bit of time to reflect about my Chicago life. Thinking about pulling away from the curb and leaving my best Chicago friend – B – in the dark was a sad time. I thought about the great going away (it was also close to my birthday) party friends had given me two days earlier. I thought about the hugs, the laughs, and the tears that were shared at the party. All of those happy times and stories were a huge part of my life. The 2300 mile road trip was sure to be fun time with my cousin accompanying me. It turned out to be more of leapfrog from gas station to gas station. Wow that was a lot of fuel. He did the majority of driving too…BONUS for me. I knew we would laugh a lot for those four days. We did. At the same time I was thinking about the great opportunities and the experience waiting for me in Southern California. All of these emotions were colliding in my thoughts.
I was sad about leaving Chicago….for sure. I was excited to be moving West…for sure. To be moving to land with mountains. To be closer to my family and returning to the Western culture all just felt right. I was feeling a bit like my younger brother, “I’m sad too…well I’m not that sad.” I was sad. Should I feel sadder? Should it hurt more? What did all of that mean? Is there a hyphenated emotion of happy-sad? It was hard to rationalize my happiness (I have wanted this to happen for a couple of years) alongside my sadness of what leaving truly meant. I left a great job. I left my students. I left my friends.
Life happens and sad is part of the deal. One of my oldest friends (longevity-wise) recently lost her mom. We talked about loss and sadness. We talked about how we redefine or learn a new normal. I lost my mom a 1.5 years ago. I think about her everyday. Tears happen all of a sudden. It is an odd thing to get a handle on. There are other things in our day-to-day and our year-to-year that occur and we have feelings of sadness. That great vacation trip, the people involved, and the memories of great times. The sadness that happens after finishing up a big project or event can happen and leave a void. Some life-events are sad-sad and some are happy-sad.
Don’t cry because it is over smile because it happens. –Dr. Seuss.
It can be hard to pull out of the doldrums or the sad of what seems to be final. The best part about the event or situation is that it happened. There is something to be sad about. As I was pulling out of Chicago I was thinking about the reasons that chapter of my life occurred. Without that chapter I wouldn’t have those friendships. I wouldn’t know what -50-degrees Fahrenheit feels like. I learned about the philosophy and guidance of the SGI Nichiren Buddhism. There are many times that things have happened in my life that I can find meaning what seemed to be random events just happening in life. That cause and effect of life happens for a reason. The beauty of this phenomena is that often we get be BOTH the cause and the effect.
Without embracing sad, how are we really embracing happiness?
Many years ago I was discussing with a friend how the lows of some life events seemed to really hit us. I hadn’t thought about it, but she said that was a good thing. If we could feel the lowest points then we could also feel the highest points. The peaks and the valleys all provide the holistic picture of life and learning. If we didn’t have both (highs and lows) how could we discern the difference? I think they call that a flat line…most of time when talking about life we try to avoid flat lining. Without the peaks the definition of a valley seems…well it seems to fall flat. Mr. Rogers has helped the world accept the place for sadness in our world. He said if we dismiss sadness, or anger, then we “probably won’t know what we are feeling.” He said it is important to “treat ourselves gently” with ANY feeling, and then we can discover the deeper meaning to who we are. (Life’s Journeys According to Mr. Rogers)
This reframing of sadness into worthwhile is an important function of leadership too. As leaders we have to work with our groups and organizations to look at everything that happens through the right lens. I am not talking about permanently wearing the cliché-ish rose-colored glasses. We have to be careful of becoming too positive…that can just be irritating. The leadership role I am suggesting here is the ability to see the events for what they were. Some might say objectively. We could call it perspective. Looking at the fun and good times as well as the lessons, and perhaps the things that didn’t happen to work out.
This ability to look at our events with some perspective contributes to our ability to cope and our ability to hope. Hope is about anticipating a better future. This ability to accept the sad contributes to our resilience as well. Sad is going to happen in the future. There will be sad because a joyous time has ended and there will be sad due to circumstances. Our ability to cope with both of those as lessons and understand their importance in our life condition and process will definitely contribute to resilience. Maybe my little brother (who is now much taller than me) understood resilience when he said, “I’m sad too….WELL, I’m not that sad…”