These have been a recurring life theme for me. It’s hard to put into words what I feel about them- in the same way that you feel a poem before you comprehend it- so what follows will certainly not be precise or clear- but hopefully felt nonetheless.
Bittersweet is a favorite poem by George Herbert, and incidentally- the title of my first and last album produced with Dan. Because life and now, I am finding loss also- holds those two contradictory characteristics at once- it is bitter. it is sweet. What is sweet about my sorrow over Dan’s death? Sorrow is sweet by the very definition of sorrow- if i had not loved so fully- i would not feel this. It’s as if the sorrow is pressing out of me the deepest and sweetest love I’ve ever known.
Paradox comes to us from the Greek: para + dokein, “to think more,” and so I feel like I’ve been puzzling over all of the paradoxes and contradictions in life for a long time now- searching them out because I had the vague notion that the contradictions that mark our world here are there for a reason- like sign posts pointing to some greater truth.
There is a tension that pervades even daily life if you look for it. When Blaise Pascal turned his study to religion he said it was to “contemplate the greatness and the misery of man.” And this is our lot- greatness and misery coexisting all the time.
Another place you will find this tension made manifest in a tangible way is in great art. All great art holds the tension- the contradiction of the human predicament. Bad art has little tension and resolves itself neatly- this is Hollywood and Walt Disney.
Good art maintains the tension and offers up a final contradiction at the end- not one that resolves- but one that brings you to a new level of truth. I think of the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson or even the bestselling work of literature- the Bible.
I also see the tension in labor and childbirth- the long and slow contractions- the quickening pace- the pain and mess eventually exploding in life. I feel that same tension in grieving- but is there a tension in death- that seems so done, so irrevocable? Perhaps there is…like the autumn leaves as they die- bursting with color as if to say- you will not have the last say!
I think my hunt to make sense of the contradiction our world is saturated in, is partly what led me to the Christian faith more than any other. It is a faith full of paradox. If you lose your life, you’ll gain it. To be mature- we must become like little children. When we are weak, then we will be strong. Death will bring life. The humble, and meek will reign. One hymn puts it this way:
See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Dan dies. My world collapses. My heart is full of sorrow. And now I feel like I’m digging, researching through my whole life- journals, letters, like I used to do staying up all night to write English papers or my thesis. Digging to find some beauty or truth amidst this tragedy. I cull for hope that though I feel now just the sting of death- there will be a day when i can say “where o death is your sting?”
GK Chesterton says, “The sane person always cares more for truth than consistency. If he sees two truths that seem to contradict each other, he accepts both truths and the contradiction along with them. His intellectual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that.”
So perhaps I am not crazy in these thoughts- in this struggle to make sense of contradiction. Perhaps there is something to it all- love and sorrow flowing mingled down. Yes there must be. This contradiction, this tension, holds a glorious secret up to us, and I want to know what it is. Wouldn’t it just make sense if sorrow was the path that took me there?