As a firefighter, I have a humble window seat where I am witness to humanity’s sorrow, pain, suffering, and tragedy on a regular basis. Sometimes it can be heartbreaking to observe what some of my fellow human beings are going through.
The actual emergency work firefighters perform on scene is task driven. We are trained to mitigate a complex variety of emergency situations, including broken bones, heart attacks, strokes, severe allergic reactions, traumatic injuries, drownings, suicides, shootings, stabbings, overdoses, vehicle extrications, industrial accidents, hazardous spills, structure fires, and wildland fires to name a few. We are well trained, keeping up with skills, certifications, and classes and equipped with state of the art equipment to do our best to handle these emergencies and many more. Focused intently on our goal at hand, it is our sworn duty to perform these tasks to the best of our abilities.
Quite honestly, all that is the easy part.
The most difficult part, for me, is the human element of suffering that accompanies many of these emergency calls. As an empathetic soul, I think about the folks I meet in my work context long after our emergency duties are done. The wailing cries of maternal despair have haunted me over a decade later when the specific details of the emergency have long since faded. I often wonder how the loved ones who are left behind are faring, or how the patients with debilitating injuries or illness are dealing with their varied emotional landscapes.
So today, when my kindergartner announced in a rather somber voice, “I’m going to go inside and celebrate my sadness,” my ears perked up instantly to this profound and simple statement.
The Tadpole Is on the Ground
We had just returned from a fun filled overnight visit with Auntie D, where he had excitedly spent hours catching tadpoles from her large pond and placing them carefully in the glass jar that she had instantly produced with lily pad and all.
He watched in awe as tadpoles of all sizes swam and scooted about their new habitat. The tadpoles were lovingly transported through the three hour drive back home, sitting contentedly in the car’s cup holder, air set at just the right temperature for their journey to their soon to be new home. Once in while, the jar got passed back to eager hands wanting to hold the new pets.
I had barely set the brake, when my little guy was racing out of the car with his tadpoles, ready to add them to our little pond which already boasts a few of the croaking critters. Outside I found him, hose in hand, filling up the pond, which had receded a couple inches in the few days that we were out of town. He wanted their new home to be perfect.
“Mom I’m reeeaaady; can you help me with the hose?” The jar was sitting next to him. As I bent down to get the hose out of the way, we were a tangle of arms and legs and hose, and in a flash the glass jar was tipped over, tadpoles and all. After a flurry of trying to pick up squirming black blobs before they seemingly sank into the grass, we had the jar righted–still half filled with pond water and tadpoles to show for it. I was amazed we had that much, after that catastrophe.
I looked at my boy. Slumped shoulders, eyes filling, he poured what remained of his new pets into the pond. He sighed sorrowfully. My mind was already formulating Mom type comforts and condolences. ‘The jar is half full’ comments were brewing. That’s when I was startled by his decisive declaration, “Ok, I’m going to go inside and celebrate my sadness.”
Celebrate my sadness.
Now I was the eager one, stumbling behind him in my curiosity, the student desperate to find out more from the master.
“What do you mean celebrate your sadness?” I held my breath for the wisdom.
“Well, I think I will eat this Spongebob gummy candy first.”
Oh. Ok, so here was the six year old I knew. And I could relate to that one, diverting the pain, a common practice for many of us. I tried to form my words more specifically this time.
“What does celebrating your sadness look like for you?”
Head down, brow furrowed. “I think I will draw.” He got out the paper and markers.
He didn’t paint a rosy picture or try to look on the bright side. He drew exactly what he had experienced and what he felt. I asked him to explain what he drew.
“The tadpole is on the ground. I see it. I love the tadpole.”
I was in awe. Here was my six year old, steeped in real six-year-old sadness and he was celebrating it. He was honoring it.
Humanity’s story, the human experience, has it all. In all of its beauty and its pain and everything in between–it is a fabulously full play we are a part of!
And in our lifetimes, we may have the fortune to experience the accompanying full range of our feelings, from the dark to the light. Our emotions are a huge part of our human condition, after all. It is ok to be human! It is what we came here to do. In all of our sadness and suffering too.
It takes courage to feel our feelings fully and then to express them in the ways that feel right to us. We honor ourselves and our lives when we do this. As we walk the earth, can we find compassion for ourselves, for our human feelings, our human expressions, and our human lives?
Later, my six year old master wrote about his experience.
The tadpole falls on the ground. I am very sorry for the tadpole. Celebrating Sadness is the name of this book. Celebrating sadness. The tadpole dies because it is on land. Poor tadpole. I love the tadpole.
The master wasn’t stuffing it, hiding it, or trying to make it go away. He wasn’t trying to make it better or put a positive spin on it. He was keeping it real, matter of fact. He was expressing it in his own unique way. He was fully in it. He was honoring where he was in that exact moment of time and space. He was truly celebrating his sadness.
Thank you for the wisdom Leo.