laboring for joy: the work of grief

This weekend my family got together to create and seek and accept joy in the midst of terrible pain. It was, as I now often say, excruciatingly beautiful. When the injustice and intimacy of pain makes the ground shake, it tends to become THE story. It is the lens through which everything else is seen, shading it all in an indistinguishable gray. Pain sometimes deadens the senses, so that you cannot notice, let alone experience, joy and all the relief it brings. This weekend though, with great effort, we made room in the pain for joy. 

It was hard. When grief tries to swallow you up, it takes all the effort you have to keep from drowning. The lift is enormous. After doing the heavy lifting, with others, to create the space and environment that could invite joy to enter, I learned a few things:

1) It was hard. It drew from the bone marrow, and took all we had. It was hard to plan, hard to show up, hard to smile. Grief makes everything hard. It is a type of labor, and it is worth saying out loud that this is true. 

2) It was also easy, though. When the space was created, the plan set in motion, and the people started gathering, the joy that comes out of community took us all in. Joy is a slippery term, but I'm using it to capture those moments when gratitude wells up, when a shared resonance with another human surprises you, when the connection between the right now and the eternity we were made for seems less ridiculous. Joy is the experience that reminds you that hope outlasts despair. To quote Bono, you have found joy when your soul believes, for a fleeting moment, that "love is bigger than anything in its way." Joy is able to make room in the midst of pain for comfort and gratitude. This weekend, joy came in and reminded us we aren't alone, that our community is witnessing this awful thing communally, and together we bear each other up as we bear the weight of sadness. The fun and laughter came easily, and we all got swept up in the incredible gift of this one moment. Pain, yes. But joy as well. Weepy smiles. The pain was still there, but it was a guest, rather than the host. Grief is not more manageable when managed. Being with others who know a bit about your hurt, even when you have no desire to be with anyone, somehow makes joy possible. 

This Labor Day, I see a new side of labor. I am an advocate of working with our hands, of creating beauty and order with our bodies. Of the privilege and dignity of labor in a world that only values capital. This Labor Day though, I wanted to pause and say that creating joy in the midst of pain is very hard work. It is labor. And yet, joy and grief can coexist when we walk through life with others (The scriptures say it is not good for us to be alone, and maybe this is why). Joy is a stubborn ass, and she will show up every single time, even if it takes a great deal of labor to create space for her. Just because it is hard does not mean it is is not possible. Do the work to help hurting people in your life survive their pain. Do the work to belong to a community that pays attention to the people in it. Labor is hard! Spend yourself thoroughly in creating space for joy, and then rest, knowing your sacrifice, your presence, might provide a merciful gift to a person in pain.