Kahlil Gibran said, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” As we age, thinking about the relationship between joy and sorrow can help us deal with some of the heavier disappointments in life.
When I was younger, my life included a host of appointments for my two daughters: dentist appointments, parent-teacher conferences, play dates, doctor appointments, and so on. Today, as a senior citizen, I’m still dealing with appointments. Some of them come with disappointments. My hairdresser tells me my hair is falling out; my dentist suggests the same might happen with my teeth. My eye doctor prescribes bifocals, and the audiologist suggests hearing aids may be in my future.
So, I have appointments and disappointments to deal with as I age. While I’m fairly comfortable with keeping most of my appointments, I’m looking for positive ways to deal with my disappointments. Maybe I can’t do much about my aging hair and teeth, but I don’t want to let the disappointments tear away at the fabric of my life.
I know about disappointments, as I’ve had a few. I know disappointments are inevitable. They happen to everyone and in every stage of life. I also know that some don’t just drift away on their own. They tend to stick with you over time. So, once you’ve reached your senior years, you may be carrying a heavy load of disappointments. How to deal with them is one of the challenges of aging. I’m still working on this, because I know that if left unattended, disappointments can gnaw away at the peace and serenity I anticipated during this stage of my life.
Another thing I know about disappointments is that even if I could discard—or disregard—all the old ones, new disappointments can show up any time. They might be minor, as when the rabbits destroy your garden. But disappointments can also be major, as when your daughter’s pregnancy ends in a miscarriage.
Sitting With Sadness
Disappointments come in many shapes and forms—some relate to the body, some to the soul, and some to relationships with other people. I think it’s unwise to throw all these disappointments into the same bucket. Some disappointments can be discarded—no real harm done. But other disappointments invite reflection and spiritual growth.
My first step in dealing with disappointments is to assess their importance. I ask myself, “How much does this really matter?” The rabbits eating my lettuce isn’t that big of a deal. I might spend some time looking for a way to keep the rabbits out, but I’m not going to let the rabbit issue drain my energy. For more serious situations—especially for situations over which I have little control—I look to a practice I call “sit with the sadness.”
Several years ago, we discovered that the house we wanted to sell wasn’t worth what we had anticipated. This meant not being able to purchase a new home after we moved to be near our daughter and grandchildren. We were disappointed and anxious. A part of me wanted to lash out in anger—“This should not have happened!”—and I wanted to find someone or something to blame. Yet, I knew that was an unproductive route to take. I sat with the sadness for a while. I gave myself permission to feel the disappointment and anxiety. This didn’t remove the sadness, but it gave me enough time and space to shift my thinking to “what’s next?” and to engage in some productive problem-solving.
Balancing the Adventure
Kahlil Gibran once said, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” Thinking about the relationship between joy and sorrow helps me deal with some of the heavier disappointments of my life. I view the lesser disappointments as just bumps in the road—obstacles I can step over as I walk the path of life. But when I experience the heavier disappointments, I find it helpful to consider how sadness reflects just one dimension of the human experience and how one dimension often balances another. We have sorrows, but we also have joy. We have responsibilities, but we also have rights. We have disappointments, but we also have happy surprises. We have burdens, but we also have blessings. We might not understand the meaning of all that we have and all that we experience, but the balancing out, I believe, is what makes life such an interesting adventure.
Some of my appointments have given me disappointing messages, and some of my efforts have led to disappointing results. Yet, when I place my disappointments and my moments of joy side by side, it’s easy to see that I’ve been blessed with more joy than sadness. Reflecting on the way things tend to balance out tells me that the world doesn’t disappoint and that it’s wise to focus more on blessings and less on disappointments.