I Get Up. I Walk. I fall down. Meanwhile I Keep Dancing. Hillel
Can happiness live in a world riddled with darkness: either in the larger world or in our own? When the international news is terrifying, when our safety is shaken, when our lives are stripped bare, how do we get up? Is it possible to dance, or even balance, when our limbs or lives are shattered? How do we rise?
Two of my finest mentors, by virtue of inspiration shared at their end of their lives, taught what the science of Positive Psychology is just now discovering. In the midst of crisis we must first acknowledge the pain; the confusion; the devastation; must tend to it all; allowing ourselves time to sit in the darkness before opening to hope and to healing. Healing is unique and reflects personal rhythm, perspective, and style. For some, silence and cocooning is essential, while for others connection is paramount. In truth, eventually it is others who help lift us back up to life. Psychologists now recognize that we can, in reality, thrive in the aftermath of loss, of grief, of trauma. This phenomenon of enhanced hardiness and wisdom, spurred by suffering, is termed Post Traumatic Growth, (Tedeschi and Calhoun, 1996.) www.posttraumaticgrowth.com
My wise and loving step-dad, Herman Liss, was a stellar example of post-traumatic growth. At age 93 Herman suffered the loss of his beloved, my mom, and one week later experienced a devastating stroke. In seven days, his lost his wife, his health, his home, his independence, and most tragically, his will to live. And yet in time, even on hospice care, Herman began to flourish and helped to heal his family, his friends, even his caregivers through his gentle wisdom and kindness. (ExtraOrdinary: An End of Life Story Without End, 2012 Pearlsong Press, Tamaren and Wittner.) Two weeks before he died I asked him, “Dad, what is Happiness?” Herman replied, “Happiness is appreciating all of the good in your own life, and helping to make life good for others.” Indeed, science now confirms that happiness rests largely on gratitude and generosity of spirit.
My dear friend, Pamela Finer, a gifted, beautiful, and brilliant soul, embodied throughout her life, and most movingly at the end of her short 56 years, the life-giving gifts of appreciation and sharing. Pam was diagnosed with a rare and invasive form of uterine cancer that metastasized to her brain. She wrote the following piece just weeks before her passing.
I wanted to create a personal ritual for myself after a series of whole-brain radiation treatments caused my hair to fall out. I called this ritual, To Feather One’s Nest. This alludes to birds lining their nests with feathers to make them warm and comfortable.
First, I asked my oncologist if the hair that I’d shed and saved was considered a bio-hazard. He said most definitely not…just hair that fell out. So far so good.
Shortly after that, my husband and I set out for a lovely evening stroll around our apartment complex. I had my little bag of hair with me. We got to a place in back where a wrought-iron fence runs along some beautiful conservation land…over the fence there is about a 200 foot drop to the ground below. I released little clumps of my hair to the birds so they could line their spring nest with it and hatch their little birdies in comfort! When those little birds eventually fly up to the sky, they will carry my gratitude to the Heavens for completing my radiation treatments!
When I had finally cast all of my hair to the wind, I looked down at the grass at my feet, and it was interspersed with the tiniest purple snapdragons…each blossom no bigger than an eighth of an inch! Of course, I picked a handful to bring inside…
My little ceremony was fulfilling to me…it made me happy!
Pamela S. Finer 4-1-09
Herman and Pam both understood that happiness blooms in love, in appreciation, in generosity, and in heartfelt connection. Yes, we can dance…even in the dark.