The Cultivation of Sadness

I’m thinking about your sadness. It’s so similar to mine. Erin Belieu calls this “your human disappointment,/ which you’ve raised like a baby/ in a black BabyBjorn,/ coaxing it into the best sadness.”

I think it’s more like a lawn: cultivated, watered, shorn. Green and healthy. Uniform. We put on our gloves and yank the weeds out by the roots, because the Lawn should only ever be one thing. We cultivate its beauty, its ordinariness, the fact that, at its best, it’s just like every other lawn. Every blade of grass the same size and color.

It’s predictable, resting beneath our feet. It grounds us. We forget about it.

Our sadness is a display. Its regular watering (with tears, of course) produces satisfactory results: a softening, a little growth. We feed it just enough. From the street, it gives depth to the property, a well-roundedness.

But the grass is not the ground; it’s a soft place for your feet to land so they don’t have to touch the dirt. The dirt, abundant and compact, supports the house.

The dirt is the vulnerability underneath the sadness. Soft, strong.

Ugly. It asks, “what has been given to you, and what have you earned? What have you really lost? Is it already broken?”

We lament the loss of things we never deserved. We are born into privilege and then bemoan its retreat. This is a hideous part of our sadness.

We fear the discomfort of the dirt, its rocks or shells or particles of bone. But we were born into discomfort, and we die there. “Just make sure she’s comfortable” is what they say about the already half-dead, in agony and riddled with tumors. In agony we learn to be born and to die, over and over. Discomfort is a prerequisite for growth, and a component of all fruitful work.

Underneath the self-serving sadness, there is more. It’s ripe, putrid, rotten stuff. We have to be curious about it:

It’s all the work we haven’t done.

It’s all the ugly parts of ourselves that we refuse to examine, because we’re too busy cultivating the lawn. Sadness is charming, like poetry or water taxis.

My sadness is perfect. It has nothing to do with anything. It’s a gift.

It’s for those of us lucky enough to avoid despair.

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