Tears of Joy and Sorrow

In the last while, we have spoken of the difference between life scripts we inherit from without and our true story from within. We have also spoken of memory as the process not so much of recalling past events, but of remembering who we are. It is a process of uncovering our true story. It can also be described as a process of returning home to ourselves.

We have also spoken of imagination as exploring alternative possibilities beyond a seeming prison of inherited, status quo, scripts. One of the possibilities is to uncover our own inmost story. This awareness involves unveiling our identity beneath seemingly encrusted layers of inherited, often negative messages about ourselves. It is also, as a result, an uncovering of a life direction, a script, that does reflect and embody our core identity.

Certainly, it may mean departing from inherited, or even inflicted scripts, (however much they may have arisen out of genuine concern), Yet it is also a relational story, since our lives are inseparably bound up with others. It may then move towards relating to one another as we and they truly are, not as one projected image to another. It may move towards becoming, so to speak, a relation between persons rather than impersonators.

Yet beneath these layers that may protect or hide, yet also express, our inner self, there is an immense longing. It is the experience from our deepest core that reaches for something more, beyond where we are now. It may be imaged as a longing for somewhere over the rainbow, a somewhere that is elusive, mysterious, and felt rather than known. It may be described perhaps as a longing for meaning, for wholeness, for home. It may be a longing to come home to our heart, our core, and from there become a home to others.

As Dag Hammarskjold has written, this is a long journey. “The longest journey is the journey inwards, of one who has chosen his or her destiny, who has started upon the quest for the source of their being.” The myths and folk tales also speak of this journey. Odysseus wanders for many years in solitude and through many dangers before arriving home to his beloved Penelope. In a moving passage near the end of his journey home, Odysseus is welcomed to a banquet where a blind poet sings. The poet’s song strikes to the heart of Odysseus and moves hin to tears, because it is the song that names his very life. It certainly calls to mind a similar song by Roberta Flack, Killing Me Softly with His Song, echoed in the following words: “Strumming my pain with his fingers/ Singing my life with his words/ Killing me softly with his song.”

The folk tale tradition makes concrete this inner journey home by the image of the dark forest. Hansel and Gretel must pass through such a forest until they are guided by the singing of a beautiful bird. The forest stands for all the dark, unknown, unexplored shadowy regions of the self before their encounter in the bird the underlying beauty of their true voice and song. They are then able to share their inner riches with others, as indicated by the discovery of hidden jewels. Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood also make a perilous journey through forests. There they encounter the powerful feelings and tendencies of “red” side of life. Only as they pass through these experiences of loss and conflict are they able to love from deeply within.

Gordon Cosby, described as a pastor, mentor, and social activist, speaks similarly of facing and naming the darkness within us, “crying out the grief that has marked us and too often been covered over. “ He adds, however: “The journey to your own quiet centre is long and arduous. … But one day you will touch the Silence and understand and exclaim .. how little were my labours compared with the great peace I have found”

Perhaps, too, tears provide an image of this quest for home. It is remarkable that, beyond mere surface emotions, tears well up within us at moments not only of great sorrow but also of great joy. The same physical expression appears to express opposite experiences. Yet they may unveil more profoundly that there is a place within us that is deeper than, prior to the separation of joy and sorrow, and gathers them into the unity of our heart. An interesting expression of this thought is found in a song by Elaine Hagenberg. Its words, in part, are as follows: “Light after darkness, gain after loss, Strength after weakness, … Sweet after bitter, hope after fears, Home after wandering, … Sight after mystery, sun after rain, Joy after sorrow, peace after pain; Near after distant, gleam after gloom, Love aftеr loneliness.”

Tears are a form of water, and water is many things in human experience. Water is the turbulent sea that swallows us up and the restful waters that restore our soul. It is the flood that lays waste the land and the irrigation that sustains its crops. It is the fury of the storm that always frightens and the beauty of the rainbow that always surprises with joy. Water is our home in the womb before birth, the perspiration of our labour, and the tears of our deep feelings. Water is both death and life to human beings. If we are drowning, water tastes of death; if we are thirsting, water tastes of life. Water symbolizes all that may threaten to engulf us or swallow us up. Water also symbolizes all that assuages the thirsts at the core of our being, and all that renews and restores us. Our tears are perhaps the container of our inmost feelings.

As in a reinterpretation of the story of Pandora’s Box, all the joys and sorrows of life, the contradictions of experience, may be contained within hope. And we might add, contained within and ultimately rooted in caring, compassion, and love.

May all the tears of joy and sorrow in you life flow into your heart, heal and transform you, and give you a living awareness of your own sacredness and that of all of life. And may they flow from you heart into a world so in need of your unique caring.

Norman King, November 7, 2022