You’ve heard it before, “Well, [insert appropriate subject pronoun here] look(s) happy”. And so they are pronounced as such. We go about our way. They often go home and cry. We too easily forget that smiles are often a coaxed response of self, not Soul. In that way, they don’t equate to happiness that exists; oftentimes, they equate to happiness one hopes we believe exists.
I write this because I have a contagious smile. It has opened doors and closed them gracefully behind me and it has also led others to believe that I am boundlessly happy at all times. I was recently told this: “You’re always happy, Dani. That’s a wonderful thing!” As I sat there perplexed by her comment, I asked myself, what is wonderful about that?
If I have learned anything, it’s that we were gifted a spectrum of emotion for a reason. Every emotion is valid and deserves to be felt deeply, even sadness. But many are uncomfortable with that. We’re fed images and stories of others who “laugh through pain” and “smile through tears” and somehow that abnormality becomes what’s expected.
A dear friend told me in conversations past that, “an apple tree can no more grunt out an orange than an orange tree can grunt out an apple.” That’s not what’s inside them. So that’s not what will be manifest outside them. As humans, we are a bit more complex than fruit trees, which complicates the matter a bit, because we can be wading waist deep in despair and still grunt out the” fruit” of happiness: a smile.
Honestly, I think this goes deeper, much deeper, than we realize. And since I’m a heart and soul excavator, I’m unafraid to search those depths. I believe there is a certain discomfort for others when our feelings are not in line with theirs, like we might upset the balance of their happiness if we anchor into our sadness. Or, a greater discomfort, that our anchoring into that sadness, makes them more aware of their own.
Take this example: last week we hosted a visitor from Brazil. During a long car ride, R had an emotionally-charged phone conversation with a manager of ours. My chest began to tighten and I seriously thought of making a run for it when he came to a rolling stop. You see, I don’t deal well with words spoken loudly or harshly (actually, let’s be honest, I don’t deal with conflict well. Period.), so my immediate reaction was to shut down and find the nearest exit. L, our visitor, was distressed, as I turned inward and became notably quiet, to which she asked, “Dani, can we just make the time nice? I’m only going to be here a few days…can you just be happy and normal again?” I thought about that and about the self-sacrificing person I have been for most of my life and responded:
No, I can’t. I’m upset right now and it’s okay to be upset. I’m not going to pretend that I’m feeling something I’m not to make everyone else feel okay. I need to feel what I’m feeling in this moment so I can move past it.
And that was that: feelings were felt, subsequently moved through, and richer days followed. My world didn’t end because I was sad, but in that moment, perhaps she felt hers might.
A few days ago I had another conversation. It went like this:
P: “So, how are you? I thought I was going to have to gather a search party!”
Me: “Well…I’ve been pretty sad lately. You know this time of year is hard for me.”
P: “It is? Why? I thought you loved Christmas!?!”
Me: “I do, but this time of year everyone is out with their children making memories and creating traditions and I miss mine. I miss the ‘would be’ of them and it makes me sad.”
P: “Well, I think you just need to work yourself past that.”
Me: “I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with being sad. I want to feel it and feel it deeply. If I do that, I’ll be able to get past it. For now.”
And the conversation continued. You see, she didn’t want me to feel sad. My sadness made her uncomfortable because there was nothing she could do about it. But if I moved past it, often by walking around it rather than through it, she would have nothing to feel uncomfortable about.
A few months ago, a beautiful friend wrote me this:
Dani, it is curious that when I read your replies on my iPad, a red heart appears at the end. On my computer, I see a heart with the less than symbol and a 3. I believe your heart is greater than 3, through the heartache you have suffered and your choice not to allow pain to define you.
I had noticed the less than symbol and the 3 but I hadn’t made that connection until her words brought me the much needed heart treasures of perspective and Light. I know my pain doesn’t define me, neither does my sadness, or anger, or frustration or jealousy. And I would much rather my face be a canvas painted by the raw emotion of Heart, than the domesticated emotion of expectation.
There is purpose in pain and sacredness in sadness. When we allow ourselves the gifts of emotion, we open ourselves up to a better understanding of Soul. So, the next time you see a smile, don’t assume it’s the fruit of happiness. And, especially during this Season of outward celebration, remember the inward suffering of those who received that diagnosis, are struggling without that/those loved one(s), or are complexly lost in a found place. Extend some grace to yourself and those around you. And remember: the world won’t come to an end if you let yourself feel, but your world might if you don’t.