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Tales of Grief and Grace

By remaining open to the many possibilities of living, maybe we avoid a little less and live a little more.

abstract painting by Nicole Javorsky titled "Grace"

Dearest Doodle Soupers,

The painting above is one I just finished today - it's called "Grace." What does the word "grace" mean to you?

I've been thinking a lot about questions that relate to the idea of grace. How is it that I can feel angry and sad about the abuse I experienced yet I do not really want my life to have been different? Every single f'd up thing that's happened in my life has influenced who I am in a number of ways. I didn't just get pain, exhaustion, and PTSD; I also gained depth, wisdom, strength, gratitude, and connection along the way. And it's not the abuse and trauma by itself, but rather a grace that allows me to move through the darkness and come up for air bearing something more than merely scars.

Trauma taught me to fear, but grace taught me that I am fully capable of doing what scares me. Trauma taught me to blame myself, but grace taught me to believe in myself and the possibilities of simply being alive. Trauma taught me to avoid the truth and grace taught me that there is no truth too heavy for me to bear once I'm ready to know it.

No matter how big the grief, I can't help but recognize again and again this incredible fact: there is something gentle and sweet just beyond the deepest heartbreak. When I let go of judgement and cease all the watching-myself-from-the-outside and I finally allow myself to speak freely or to let my tears ring out raw and true, I feel connected to this pure, bittersweet power. In those moments, I fear nothing. There is only that one moment and a sense of oneness with the truth.

I think what I'm describing is grace: a soft place to land between waves of grief.

I know there are people, right now in this moment, who believe that life is meaningless. And, I've had moments when I feared they could be right. At the same time, it's undeniable to me that everything that's meaningless is also meaningful. We give life meaning. And when we don't give life meaning, it becomes meaningless.

Every now and then, I tend to go through periods when I ask myself: what's the point of art? Art doesn't change that people hurt each other, that people get sick, that people die, etc. And if I'm being honest with myself, I don't truly believe that anything will change that pain is a part of life. Yet, I also know that art doesn't need to change a thing about the facts of existence to give us grace and make life better. Since I was a young child, I could look at van Gogh's paintings and feel a sense of fascination and inspiration. What do many of us do when our hearts hurt? We listen to sad songs. The sad songs don't change the existence of heartbreak. Instead, maybe they remind us that we are nowhere near the first human being to cry or feel crushed by something. And somehow, the reminder helps and making an hour even a little bit easier can mean a whole lot in those rough, rough moments.

What is more meaningful than the fact that we as humans can feel completely awful and a song can make the passage of time during periods of hardship even a touch easier? What is more meaningful than the fact that, sometimes, sadness can be really beautiful? What is more meaningful than the contrast between pain and joy? What is more meaningful than the ebb and flow of emotions?

I guess what I'm trying to express is this truth I'm holding right now, that life doesn't have to be about maximizing happiness or tangible things we can stack up and clutch onto, that life can just be how we live and that's enough. Life is sad when we feel sad. Life is beautiful when we feel that grace. Life is infuriating when we feel angry. Life is joyful when we feel joy. And it can be that simple.

How often do we say life is meaningless or pointless when really, deep down, what we mean is that life is sad or life is hard or life is frustrating? How often do we feel empty as a result of avoiding what is also true?

As a philosophy, nihilism is the idea that nothing can be known and rejects what we think of as human existence. The first time I met someone who strongly held these views, it really bothered me. I had this powerful urge to convince him otherwise and when I failed to persuade him, it bothered me even more. I still haven't forgotten that conversation since we had it several years ago.

But that's the thing about belief, faith, spirituality, art, music, storytelling etc. - they're not frilly or unnecesary or meaningless unless we strip them of their power. And I strip grace of its power precisely in those moments when I don't believe in it.

To be clear, I'm not talking about religion or the existence of God specifically. I'm talking about the fact that I've felt chills playing music, felt mesmerized into feeling peaceful by staring at a painting, I've felt one with the sky, and I've felt a deep stillness wrapped in the arms of the man I love.

People have debated and debated over and over how we live or should live -

Transcendentalists: "Live simply in nature."

Nihilists: "It doesn't matter or mean anything anyway."

Hedonists: "Live for pleasure."

Altruists: "Live to help others."

. . . etc. etc. etc. An interesting thing about these different philosophies is they're actually super useful and fulfilling when you combine them.

For example, when something's frustrating at work and it's outside of our control or a stranger rubs us the wrong way, it can be super useful to think, "Well, who cares? It doesn't really matter anyway." And when we need some time to figure out how we really feel about something and to get in touch with inner truth, quiet walks in nature can really do the trick. But miss out on human-to-human connection or stop caring about anyone and anything, and life might feel really empty and you might feel really lost and alone.

Giving others a hand can help us feel connected to something beyond just ourselves - that can be really great. But live only for others and you'll probably neglect your own needs and desires, which might even lead you to take that inner angst you've been avoiding out on someone else by accident.

I've felt truly alive on the dance floor, and while sinking my teeth into the pleasures of existence. However, living only for pleasure can be really limiting and lead us to miss out on lots of other cool things that life offers without that dopamine rush, like learning a new skill that's frustrating and challenging at first, or being there for someone who's hurting and getting to know them better in all of their complexity and depth, or knowing your own hurt and making peace with it through, first of all, allowing yourself to feel it.

Maybe these are all different kinds of grace - what allows us to transcend suffering. And through remaining open to the many possibilities of living, maybe we avoid a little less and live a little more.

With grace,

Nicole Sylvia Javorsky


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