Our culture does not do well with sad.
We prefer bright, perky and chipper.We want to “look on the bright side.” We are determined, “When life gives us lemons, to make lemonade.” We want always to see that “Every cloud has a silver lining”, to view the glass as half full rather than half empty, and to always keep our chin up.
We want to manage melancholy. We set out to control circumstances that might cast a shadow over our lives. We seek to alleviate any character traits that incline us to view life from anything less than a perpetually optimistic perspective.
But there are circumstances that are simply difficult, painful, and out of joint. This has always been true. It will never change. If we are waiting in this time-bound, physical, material realm for life to always come up roses, we will wait in vain.
In its origins, the word “sad” had a strong physical feel rooted in the Old English word saed which means “sated”. It referred to the experience of having had one’s fill of food and therefore feeling “heavy,” or “weary.” Around 1300 CE the word “sad” began to be used to describe the feeling of being unhappy. It became disconnected from its original physical sensation.
The main character in the “Book of Job” had a lot about which to feel “heavy” or “weary”. Job’s family had encountered desperate misfortune. Death and disease stalked their home. Job’s crops were devastated and his body was struck with a wasting painful disease.
Job had three friends who heard about his suffering. The narrator of “The Book of Job” describes the three friends’ response to Job’s misfortune:
Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. (Job 2:11-13)
Job’s friends had traveled simply to be with their friend. When they found Job, they did not try to fix his situation. They did not try to change anything. They entered into his suffering and “sat with him on the ground.” And, most important of all “for seven days and seven nights, no one spoke a word to him.”
It was only after Job’s long anguished words of lament that Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite went astray. They abandoned their resolve to keep silent and launched into a futile attempt to explain away Job’s suffering. But, no words, no answers, no explanations could assuage the painful reality of Job’s situation. It was simply difficult and painful.
Job did not need someone to make his circumstances understandable. There could be no fixing the unhappy reality of his life. What Job and his “comforters” needed to learn was simply to allow the sadness of life to be as it was without trying to solve it, or find a tidy explanation about why life is so difficult and painful.
What if sadness is not the problem?
What if our attempt to manufacture a solution or find a reasonable explanation is the problem? What if it is our struggle against life that lies at the root of our dilemma? What if it is the stories we create in an attempt to explain or solve suffering that create the greatest unhappiness?
Perhaps instead of rushing to join Job’s ineffective comforters, we might allow the word “sad” to return to its original intention.
What if we go back into our bodies and, instead of saying, “I feel sad”, we say, “My body feels heavy and tired”? What if we listen to the wisdom of our bodies, acknowledge the physical sensation, honour its presence in our lives, and accept it hear the message our body may be trying to communicate?
There is a heaviness and density at times in our bodies, but like all physical feelings, it can be endured.
When we acknowledge that this physical sensation we call “sad” is present, a small space opens around the feeling. We begin to know in a deeper part of our being that this feeling does not have the power to destroy us and that around the edges of the heaviness there is a lightness and a strength that does prevail.