Sister on the Page

This morning I am feeling very quiet. The energy of the day feels heavy, hard and I think I would rather hide myself away. Go back to sleep, wake up in a happier place. There is sadness and tragedy in the world, my small one and the larger one outside I am a part of. But I am going to try and write my way through to a better place.

Yesterday I posted a quote I love and some thoughts on writer Virginia Woolf. I was asked to elaborate more fully on how her writing impacted my life. In keeping with the still gray morning outside, the morning I feel mirrored within me, the sadder parts of my own and Woolf’s life come easily to mind. She writes vividly and candidly about some of hers in A Sketch of the Past.

One of the facts of life we seem to have in common is we both lost parents and other family members at a relatively young age. Her mother died when she was 15, mine when I was 22. I think when someone’s mother or father dies when they are a small child it’s less difficult because the memories just aren’t there. But as you get older and memories both good and bad are created, the loss of the source of those memories becomes ever harder to deal with.

My mother died while I was in college. My father asked me to leave school at the time and stay home with him so that he would not be alone. But I knew that would mean a kind of death for me, as well. So I returned to school in spite of the fear and guilt I felt about disappointing him.

Again like me, Woolf had a difficult, significant relationship with her father. I know now in hindsight, with the lessons from my own mistakes and injuries in life collected around me, that he was just another imperfect person with his own regrets and pain. We all collect them. Part of learning to be compassionate, to forgive mistakes in others is learning to forgive yourself for your own. But a child can’t do that. Only an adult who knows they have faults can really see or forgive those in another. That is what it took for me to make peace with my father.

During our younger years both Woolf and I turned inwardly on ourselves, like many young damaged people. The world inside became more enjoyable, more rich and far more reliable than the one outside. It was safer in there. Most of the time. It can also become a place where doubt, fear and loneliness take root, a garden of both flowers and weeds. If you read about her life, you will learn she experienced bouts of depression. We have that in common, too.

But what I identify with most in Woolf, what I think she first helped me come to understand is that life is not just about the moments of pain, the losses. And it’s not about just about the beauty either, the joy or pleasure. It is about both. And the sooner we can make peace with that in ourselves and in the world, the better off we will be in life.

Things are going to hurt, things are going to feel good. That is what we get, that is what we sign up for, both. Never just happily ever after like the Disney movies would have you long for, and never just endless suffering like the recent tragedy in France would have you believe.

Joy and pain move together. We can’t know one without learning the other. Being alive means being present for all of it. Even the bad stuff. And hopefully learning from it, to help ourselves or others through those times. That is what I have learned from my own losses and my own joys. That I need to be here to experience them, that I need to understand life means both.

Woolf eventually lost her battle with pain and committed suicide. At times I have felt that level of despair, for my own personal reasons or when I see things in the world that trouble my spirit. But I know now that it is not forever. Moments of joy can happen every day, even in tiny ways, if we allow ourselves to find them.

Virginia Woolf lit a lantern for me during a difficult time with her life’s story and beautiful language. I only wish I could have reached out somehow back through time to comfort her in return. In her I found a sister on page who experienced a hundred years earlier many of the same things I was going through. She helped me learn to see beauty and grace in small measures. And that they had to be enough sometimes when the rest of the world seemed dark. All I hope is that I can offer up the same.