I was a generally happy kid who listened to sad songs for the inexplicable thrill of experiencing big human feelings. Snuggling my dog, I couldn’t stop my eyes from welling up with each minor key crescendo, goosebumps traveling up my arms and down my spine.
I have always loved rainy days, poetry, and deep conversations. More old soul than new, if you will.
But for a long time, following my son’s three open-heart surgeries, grueling hospitalizations, and traumatizing cardiac arrest – followed by his mesmerizing recovery – I was in what Anne of Green Gables would have called “the depths of despair, ” minus Anne’s dramatic hyperbole. Beyond waltzing with melancholy, I was drowning in it.
In order to shake my depression and continue living a full, joy-filled life in tandem with both everyday and existential sorrows, I closed the door to art-induced, optional melancholy. I acknowledged its beauty, but I kept it at arm’s length. Reality had enough of it. I simply couldn’t handle any unnecessary brooding in the form of story or music.
I closed the door to melancholy In order to teach my kids to read. In order to put together an art project for them. In order to make breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack ad infitium.
I became the person who finds the positive in every situation. The person who dutifully fills out her gratitude journal.
You all can watch your television dramas and news networks. I will watch funny animal videos before bed, thankyouverymuch.
Give me all the happy songs. Tell me jokes. Find humor in everything. Make pretty things. Because if you let something slip by my defenses, say, a slightly sentimental children’s book, I will cry.
It’s not that I think crying is bad. It’s just that I worry that if I start, it will be hard to stop. The world is very heavy, and it’s taken decades of putting up fences around my heart to be able to function as a highly sensitive person in a deeply wounded, yet somehow still fast-paced, world.
These fences have been helpful for the last decade or so. I’ve tried not to worry about changing what I can’t change (a medical diagnosis that won’t go away is at the top of my list) and have tried to love (and be mostly happy) in the life circumstances I have been dealt.
The whole “you can’t choose what happens to you, but you can choose how you react to what happens to you” thing. I was choosing happiness, darn it!
But lately, it’s been harder to choose happiness, for whatever reason. I’ve been feeling raw. Vulnerable. Like life is moving quickly, change is in the wind, and I want to slow down and feel the deeply connective sadness of a tragically beautiful piece of art.
Last week, I listened to this Creative Pep Talk episode, an interview with author Susan Cain. There were many incredible insights that had me nodding my head in agreement, but then Susan said:
“Whatever pain you can’t get rid of, make that your creative offering.”
I about stopped breathing, and tears welled up, on a regular day after summer camp drop-off.
I’ve decided it’s time for me to open up to sadness. And, in a sense, return to my roots.
This little crow, pattern by Ann Wood, is a step toward making art, of being in the world, in a way that honors the beauty in darkness.
Somehow, when I opened up the door to melancholy, to making something imperfect and layered and from a bin of scraps, I experienced a sense of wholeness that I had been missing.
I hand-stitched this crow during a hard week. The process helped me lean into the sadness, rather than pushing it aside.
Every stitch helped me metabolize my sorrow into its other true form: redemptive, full-spectrum beauty.
And yes, I seem to have a thing for crows.
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