Book Excerpt: Peace and Plenty by Sarah Ban Breathnach
Sorrowfully accepted brings its own gifts. For there is an alchemy in sorrow. It can be transmuted into wisdom, which, if it does not bring joy, can yet bring happiness. — Pearl S. Buck
Misery is, by her own nature, a passing phase of sorrow, one that does not linger uninvited. Her sojourns seem to be part of life's required curriculum, perhaps because Misery endows us with compassion and empathy. A time will come when—because we know how much it hurts—we will be able to help another.
Artists will confess, after a few drinks, that the pain of Misery can sometimes be bittersweet. Down through the ages she's been the most inspiring of muses. Poets write tributes to her, musicians sing her song, playwrights dramatize, and filmmakers embody her cinema verité with every take. What they all are trying to do is work with Misery's mystical power to transform, because after she’s come to call, we are never quite the same. There is a composite echo, a deeper vibration to the adagio of our days and our response to life. I remember having a conversation with Rabbi Harold Kushner about life's tragedies; he told me something that I've never forgotten and so pass on to you. Be very sorry and pray for the "lucky" people, the people you might envy, those who have not known the vestige of sorrow, or grief, or misery before they are forty, because their ledgers of loss will be incalculable. Life is the ultimate forensic accountant.
So how do you deal with Misery? Some of us dance around her, playing out her many moods and wearing the mask of ennui as if nothing matters, when the truth is that everything matters. Others of us ignore her in a pointless pretense of dissociation and denial. Yet there is really only one way to deal with Misery. Accept her presence. Like most experiences in life, we must acknowledge the passage gracefully and let her move through our lives because she brings with her a hidden gift. But we must be patient enough for her to reveal it. And so we find ourselves reciting the narrative of our grief again to family, then friends who will listen, and then, when they won't, strangers on a train, our pets, or the peeling wallpaper in the kitchen, as Misery's morning cups of tea become tumblers of wine or whiskey mixed with our tears at twilight. Finally, miraculously, one night we stumble into bed and for the first time in a while don't toss and turn but sleep deep and morning comes. Oh yes, my darling Reader, Miss Misery does have her moments of healing.
"It is in the middle of misery that so much becomes clear," the poet and Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estés reassures us. "The one who says nothing good comes of this is not yet listening."