Gam & me, 2011

I recently went up to the central coast to take care of my cousin’s cat while she was on vacation. As I left for home after my visit, I was overwhelmed by sadness.

Now I adore the Cecil cat. He’s extremely affectionate & demonstrative. But there was something else going on. Something I couldn’t name. My sorrow was so deep and huge for simply saying goodbye to a cat I love.

I remembered something the comedian Louis C. K. said about letting oneself feel all feelings. He points out that life is filled with sadness as well as joy—how they both exist—but that we shy away from sorrow. He recommends embracing it instead. He talked about running into sadness frequently while driving. He noticed that his mind was more free to wander in the car and that feelings of profound misery would overtake him. He suggests pulling over to the side of the road and letting the feelings come. So I did.

As the tears flowed, I remembered a conversation with a friend just the day before about emotional discomfort. She was talking about when scary or hard things happen to us, we distract ourselves instead of feeling the fear or worry or sorrow. But if we could just sit with the hard feelings long enough, answers and solutions eventually appear.

I finally understood that my sorrow was place related. When my grandmother was still alive, I used to drive that same route home after visiting her and cry in the car. When the dementia began and Gam was no longer the woman she had been, I missed her before she left her body. I began grieving when she lost her mind. And every time I left her, I wondered how much more time we had together before I lost her completely.

Realizing this on the side of the road somehow gave me comfort. The sadness was there. Then eventually it passed. Just like Louis C. K. said it would. But it had a beginning and I was able to finally trace the source because I didn’t resist the feelings or stuff them down. I just sat with them. It’s not easy, but it’s where the answers are to be found.

The basis of Buddhism is a doctrine known as the Four Noble Truths. The First Truth is that all life is suffering, pain, and misery. I used to view this notion as a downer, but now I get it. If you’re paying attention and living a compassionate, sensitive life, your heart will break a thousand times a day. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t beauty around every corner. There are treasures to be found in the rubble. After all, a diamond started out as a lump of coal under pressure.