Thursday, March 26, 2009

In Praise of Bad Days

We have had a terrible day. Today, our family dog, “Cooper”, had to be put to sleep. Yes, he was old and in pain, but I’d known him for longer than I’d known my oldest child. He was my firstborn, and my beloved only child for years. Then, when my oldest human child was diagnosed with asthma, we had to send Cooper away to live with my parents. That may have been the hardest parental sacrifice I’ve made to date. And now he’s gone, and I wasn’t there to say goodbye.

Yes, it’s been a bad day. Sure, people have had worse- much, much worse, but it was still pretty crappy. So, needless to say, I didn’t feel much like writing today, and thought it would surely be a waste of time anyway.

But then I realized that maybe this is exactly the kind of time in which I should write. Exactly the kind of time when some of the greatest masterpieces, epiphanies, and feats of courage and greatness have occurred-during the bad days. Every war seems to inspire fabulous volumes of poetry, literature, art, and music. Most major religions were founded during “times of troubles”.

Come to think of it, even the most appreciated art itself seems to be about bad times…and what people do about them. Heck, everyone knows a comedic film is incapable of winning an Oscar- we need war, addiction, infidelity, illness, pain, poverty, paralysis, death.

So what is so special about pain?

Pain draws people together. Success, happiness, contentment, talent, health…they’re what we all desire, but they can actually separate us from each other. They can foster resentment in others and self-centeredness in yourself.

But pain? That’s something we can all relate to, and something that forces us to need each other. It equalizes us, humanizes us, and humbles us.

The great ones are those who recognize this fact and put it to good use. Instead of ignoring the emotions, burying the memories, or building up walls, they feel and think their way through it until it can be explained and expressed in a way that reaches others.

The great ones can express and share empathy, and empathy is what we are all seeking in our friendships, our art, our spirituality. Someone or something that can put into words what we knew we were feeling but couldn’t quite express.

And empathy never comes from the good days.

So don’t wait for the good days to do something good. Don’t squander the pain, mistake, heartbreak, depression, sickness, boredom, frustration, or failure just in order to “get over it” quickly. It could be the greatest gift you have to give.

I won’t go so far to say you should “rejoice in your suffering”…but maybe I’m finally starting to understand that phrase a bit more.

Goodbye, sweet Cooper.

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