Growing up in the fifties, I loved to watch a popular television show, “Queen for a Day.” The premise of the show was fairly simple. Four female contestants or “housewives,” told their stories of woe to Jack Bailey the slick, mustachioed host. Sometimes it was an illness, an accident, or a husband’s job loss that prompted the contestant’s visit to the show. After the tearful interviews, the “applause meter” was brought out. The audience would clap for the contestant who seemed the most in need. As a child, I fervently believed that my handclaps helped to move the meter for the woman with the most tragic story. When the winner was announced, she was crowned and given all sorts of prizes often including a “night on the town.” It was all deliriously magical to me. Not only were her needs met, but the winner was hailed as a Queen! As an adult, I now see the misogynistic overtones, the slick tomfoolery, and the crass commercialism of misfortune embedded in the show. Yet, as a child I was taken in by each woman’s story and the possibility of turning her sorrow into hope.
I think all these memories have bubbled up because like the contestants, I feel my life has been full of sorrows lately. I want some little girl curled up in front of a black and white tv to clap my problems away. Yet, I know neither a crown, a royal robe, nor a brand new Maytag washer will sweep them away. I am learning that I must sit with the losses and challenges that have come my way.
My Mother used to say, “This too shall pass.” In my adolescence I would inwardly scoff at the phrase. I suppose I preferred sitting in my misery and making everyone around me miserable as well. However, now in my sixties I see the wisdom in taking the long view knowing that problems do have a way of passing by or taking me down a new and sometimes better path.
I, also, wonder if maybe there is some benefit gained by learning to sit with my sorrows. A young friend eloquently wrote recently of facing down the misery of illness & loneliness. Alone and weak with the flu, she forced herself to sit with her suffering and to her surprise found compassion. Reading her words, I was reminded of the night we had to put down our sweet dog, Franny. I woke up in the wee hours wracked with sobs. At first, my tears seemed tinged with guilt, but then I realized I just needed to feel the sadness without judgement. In short, I had to sit and experience her palpable loss. As the tears streamed down my face, I began to forgive myself for what I did and did not do for Franny. I mourned her passing without judgement or regret. It was in facing the deep pang of her loss that my guilt was finally assuaged.
As I look out my window now and watch lazy snowflakes fall on my winter gray yard, I think of the sad events that have recently fallen my way…the deaths of friends and personal struggles as I slowly recover from knee surgery. I can deny these sorrows and hope some magic will melt them away, but such a denial takes an energy and fortitude I can no longer muster. If I sit patiently with my sadness maybe then as Mom said it will pass. Until it does, simply offering myself compassion will surely help me muddle through. ~c.h.