There are two ways to read this quote.
Lincoln might be telling us to “accentuate the positive.” That managing our emotions and deciding to be happy will make us feel happy. In which case, this quote is kind of ironic, given that poor Abe struggled with depression. Seems like there’s a little self-loathing mixed into the words.
When I was a little girl, I sometimes tried to imagine what it would feel like to lose somebody I loved.
I could imagine only the sketchiest approximation, though. I knew I would be very sad, but had no weight or measure of that sadness and couldn’t imagine its nuances. All I knew is that it was likely to be a grief so enormous, I might not survive it.
A lot of years have passed since then, and I’ve lost a brother, several close friends, and my parents. And in a way, I’ve been granted one of the secrets of the universe: the knowledge that as terrifying as grief is, we almost always survive it.
We fear grief as much as we feel it, which only makes our burden heavier. But grief cannot kill us (without our cooperation) so we don’t have to add to our pain with fear.
What we might fear when we feel grief:
I’m taking the Internet’s word that Lucille Ball said this, although surely someone must have said it before her. I did find a similar (typically verbose) quote from Henry James: “I don’t regret a single ‘excess’ of my responsive youth—I only regret, in my chilled age, certain occasions and possibilities I didn’t embrace.”
When I last wrote about regret, the shorter sentiment was mentioned by several readers as a favorite quote to live by. I see the appeal. It’s so…active. So devil may care. So make it happen and caution to the wind.
This is the title of a self-help classic I read in 1987, when it first came out. I don’t remember much about the book, but the title stuck with me because it’s such a useful concept.
Now I’m reading a helpful book called The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion by Christopher G. Germer that, at least what I’ve read so far, puts a yoga-esque, Buddhist-ish, new millennium-like spin on a similar concept.
The gist of both books is to feel what you feel. You can’t run or hide from emotions and so you might as well just have them. Accept them. Let them course through your body. And don’t hate them. Emotions aren’t bad or good. They just are. They might be comfortable and uncomfortable, but being uncomfortable never killed anyone.
I love when friends invent pithy quotes.
Yesterday, my friend Karen asked if I knew of any quotes along the lines of the above, which has been running through her head recently.
“To me it means when times are good and you’re in your rhythm and conquering the world (or just fairly happy) it’s easy to be philosophical about how to get thru the bad times,” she wrote.
“Telling yourself you can’t control everything is easy when life’s perkin’ along. But when it all gets complicated and shit’s goin’ wrong it’s hard to really ‘count your blessings’ or believe that ‘better times (probably) lie ahead.’”
Oh yeah. It’s true. When stuff’s hittin’ the fan, keeping a level head is really hard, no matter how much you “know” when everything is just swell.
So what then? Are you destined to just spiral down until… what? You bottom out? Your life’s in shambles around you? You take to your bed forever?
When I’m in a place so bad that I forget all the important things I know about living well, I sometimes call my former therapist for a little tune-up. Otherwise, I just spin my wheels until I’m deep in a rut. A good head shrinking helps me regain traction so I can move forward, out of the mire.
But, facile as this sounds, I’ve also found that a good pithy quote can help me hang on when life is sucky. I sometimes cling to aphorisms like a lifeline, repeat them like a mantra.
I guess the trick is grabbing onto pithy quotes that really speak to me. “Count your blessings” doesn’t work for me. I know that’s sacrilege, but thinking about the good things in my life has never solved anything for me. I can be aware of good things and still be all wadded up about the not-so-good. Good and bad are not mutually exclusive and I’m not easily distracted from life’s dark side. That’s just me.
But some pithy mantras do help me ride out hard times. For example:
This too shall pass.…
These are the words of a New York City cab driver, spoken to my parents when they were on the way to the morgue to face the unimaginable task of identifying their youngest son, my kid brother, who died unexpectedly.
The driver, too, had lost a child, and these words are perhaps the wisest I’ve ever heard for the recently bereaved.
I’ve lost a brother, both parents, and, during the most horrific years of the AIDS epidemic, several close friends. This cab driver’s words were comforting to me, and they are the words I use when expressing sympathy to others.
I think of them now because in response to my recent post, Face Reality, Life Can Be Random, a reader commented that the bland aphorism, “Everything happens for a reason” is particularly unhelpful in a time of bereavement.
Oh heavens, yes. Even if it were true that everything happens for a reason, which it’s not, when you’re in the dark belly of grief, no reason in the world can provide comfort. There’s even something a little callous about this attempt to justify loss, pain, and grief.
This observation got me thinking about good and bad things you can say when someone is grieving.