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Life Can Be Funny

“Guess what, Mom!” my daughter exclaimed one day last year when I picked her up from school. “We are doing a poetry unit this month!”

“So fun!” I replied.

She continued, “I have to bring your book to school tomorrow because I told my teacher my mom writes poetry.”

Later that night, I suggested that we look at my book together to see what poems she thought her second-grade class might like. The first one that came to my mind was one I had written about her a few years earlier. I read the poem to my daughter and she said, “Oh, my friends will definitely like that one, but do you have any poems that are funny? They really like funny poems.” As I flipped through the pages, I realized how remarkably not funny my poems are.

“Hmm,” I mused aloud, “a lot of these poems are sort of sad.”

“Do you have a sad life, Mommy?”

“No,” I answered. “I have a very happy life, but sometimes I feel sad, or mad, or scared, and then I write about it and that helps me."

Writing has been one of the tools I’ve used to explore feelings, situations, and relationships. I still have the first journal I ever owned, an eight by eight-inch square book covered with navy blue fabric with white polka dots. I purchased the journal for Mrs. Littenberg’s 8th grade English class. Mrs. Littenberg was the woman who made me fall in love with language and writing—not only as an art form, but for the way it had the power to transform the feelings, thoughts, and emotions that seemed to swirl in and around me into something that I could literally see and hear.

In writing, I become supremely present. It’s like putting a zoom lens on the details and sensations both within and outside me. Once written, I can see the thoughts and feelings as their own entity, having come forth through me, but not being me.

I wrote the poem below during a time of personal emotional dissonance several years ago. I remember walking into my house, having just spent the evening at a birthday celebration for someone I love dearly. The house was dark and I decided not to turn on the lights. I opened the back door to let Snowball out, sat down on the sofa, and looked out at the night. Snowball ran in to join me a few minutes later, rolling onto her back for a belly rub. As I reached over to her, I burst into tears. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I began sobbing from every pore of my being until the sobbing turned into unfettered laughter. It was a powerful release of a multitude of emotions—sadness, anger, joy, and nostalgia. The catharsis was painful, and it was also beautiful.

This week I have been feeling another sort of emotional dissonance.

Spring is bursting forth in Austin, TX. I am in awe of the beauty and life emerging around me. Color is returning – the green of young leaves, the rainbows of bluebonnets and redbuds and daffodils. The birds are back. Their morning conversations fill the silence that had been before. I feel tremendous joy as I watch two cardinals move about the trees behind my house. I thank them for sharing the morning with me. The emergence of spring mirrors the excitement I feel for the new projects, ideas, and relationships that have been budding in and around me.

At the same time, there is no denying a whole other spectrum of emotions that comes from the uncertainty in the world right now. I feel confusion, disappointment, sadness, doubt, and fear. I’ve been paying more attention to the news and social media than I usually do and I notice the effect it has on the way my body feels and my ability to focus.

My human instinct wants to close down everything, including my heart. Instead, I amp up the things that help me stay open. Today that included my morning meditation, dancing with my daughter, watching Snowball prance around in an open field, talking on the phone with family and friends, journaling, and finding ways to laugh. Nothing can take away the uncertainty. All the emotions that come with that are very much present for me. At the same time, I can make so much space for love and joy and gratitude that the sadness and confusion don’t overwhelm me.

When my daughter asked for a funny poem to read to her class last year, I know this wasn’t the sort of thing she had in mind. But sometimes when the feelings are so big and I’ve run out of tears, the only thing left to do is laugh.

Life Can Be Funny

(from Brainstorms)

life can be funny this way:

the way the best and the worst are synchronized

so that the euphoric memory of new life

can rouse a surge of tears

as it is so intertwined with a moment

when the rug was pulled out

from underneath the façade.

life can be funny this way:

the way a person can arrive

during a time of deep despair

and bring in a joy so unexpected

that the wound suddenly doesn’t sting with such intensity

and the unknown doesn’t feel so frightening.

life can be funny this way:

the way love and rage and fear and gratitude

can circulate through me

as I laugh and cry at the same time.

and the way that comfort comes,

not only in the warm embrace of an other,

but in the still, cold silence of my self.

life can be funny.

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