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Joy & Sorrow: Two Sides of the Same Coin

I live in Southern California, where the weather is fairly temperate, and we enjoy a lot of sun…to the extent that we often take it for granted. This winter season has been especially stormy. In fact, most years we’re in a drought and this year is an exception.

All throughout last night, the wind howled, and the rain thudded down upon our roof. This morning, as I write this from my cozy office with a blanket on my lap, I notice the sun has come out. Its brilliance out my window is almost blinding after days of darkness.

The sun always comes out after the storm runs out of rain.

I’m reminded of Maya Angelou’s quote, “Every storm runs out of rain.” The metaphor is one I believe we need reminding of right now. And I’d add that not only does our grief and pain eventually ease and subside, but joy also shines through the clouds.

After my mother died, I thought I’d never feel joy again. I’d experience waves of sobbing that I believed I’d drown in, and the next moment something would happen that caused uproarious laughter. The times when I’ve cried the hardest, I’ve also laughed the hardest. Like sunlight breaking through after a storm.

The two coexist. Like two sides to the same coin. We cannot have one without the other. We cannot have joy without sorrow, nor sorrow without joy. Their polarities allow us to experience them fully.

Have you watched the TV show “The Good Place?” If you haven’t and plan to, fair warning that this is a spoiler alert. This show is a perfect example of how this dichotomy is necessary.

The main character, Eleanor (played by Kristen Bell), dies and goes to what she’s been led to believe is Heaven (the “good place”), when in fact it’s actually Hell (the “bad place”). The head demon-playing-archangel Michael (played by Ted Danson) has created this fake-heaven as a form of torture, including pairing each soul there with a “soul-mate” that would drive them absolutely bonkers.

This all eventually results in Eleanor figuring out she is not in “the good place” and the demons must therefore ‘reset’ the system (and her memory) millions of times over. In the process, Michael comes to appreciate the complexity of humans and care deeply for them. Working together, they both discover that despite best efforts, humans can’t possibly meet the standards by which Heaven has judged “good” versus “bad.” As such, Eleanor and Michael hatch a plot to right what they believe is a faulty system that is sending everyone to “the bad place.”

After a deal is made between the forces of Hell and Heaven (with a wager for ownership of the souls on the line), Eleanor and Michael set out to prove that people are inherently good at their core and that, if given the opportunity and proper influence, can choose to be better people and whose integrity can improve. Meanwhile, demons try to thwart their efforts.

What’s discovered in the process is this:

· The demons have never had as much fun in this battle of wits as all the millions of years of the “same old, same old” torturing of human souls, which had become boring.

· Those in Heaven, who were in bliss all the time, got so bored with the “same old, same old” happy-happy, joy-joy that they stopped feeling joyful altogether.

· On both sides, without challenge and adversity, there could be no ecstasy.

Reflecting upon the past few months of stormy weather, I realize how much I’d taken our usual sunny California weather for granted, such as walking the dog whenever it was convenient versus timing it between pockets of rain. How seeing the sun break through allowed me to actually notice, and therefore appreciate, its brilliance and warmth.

I pose these questions to you for your own contemplation:

· Thinking back over the times when you’ve been most challenged, what did you come out the other side feeling more appreciative of?

· In the darkest moments of your life, what sunshine broke through?

· In the sunniest moments of your life, what darkness reminded you of all you have?

· Can you attribute any challenges to helping you break out of a rut?

· Are you able to experience the heights of joy because you’ve also experienced the lows of grief?

I invite you to let this be a jumping off point of exploration into allowing both experiences to ebb and flow, while trusting both are for your highest good.

If you're in a storm, it will pass and there's sun on the other side. If you're in a sunny space, allow the storms to do what they do so that you can feel the full extent of the sun.

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