A young mother shared in church on Sunday the pain her family was going through with their foster child at the moment: a pain coming from loneliness, frustration, anger and yes, love for this child that they welcomed into their home last year, and whom we have welcomed into our church.
It made me think of something I have found to be true in my life—that there are some forms of sadness more worth having than some forms of happiness.
Some people, Christians in particular, find this statement bizarre, or even a little offensive—as though I am romanticizing depression. And I truly don’t mean that. There was a time in my life when I did think depression was an essential part of my personality, because I had no memory of a time when I was not depressed. Then I went to college, and found out what it was like to be happy. I learned that much of my depression had its roots in external sources like family dynamics and the Findlay, OH public school system, and that I was more myself when I was not depressed.
Usually, I tell people who are alarmed by statement about sadnesses worth having that everyone who has had children has experienced pain they would never have experienced, had they not had children. Some parents, in particular have had children who experienced illnesses or other hardships they never anticipated when they felt the drive to become parents, but the vast majority of people think that having their children were worth that pain.
But I am usually thinking about the pain absorbed by people who have chosen to take risks, for the sake of love, that most people choose not to. Like the people at my church who chose to become foster parents (and before that, worked as volunteers with undocumented migrants), I have chosen to take risks in my life that took me to sad places. I have worked for a human rights organization, Christian Peacemaker Teams, since 1993, that currently has projects in Palestine, Iraqi-Kurdistan, Colombia and with Indigenous communities in North America. Often it seems that every small triumph our partner communities experience arises out innumerable setbacks, failures, and humiliations.
By choosing to write novels, I also essentially chose a life of rejection. I think my current depression is partially rooted in the fact that all three of my previous novels came from a very deep place of inspiration, were enthusiastically received by beta readers and then…the end. So I am struggling with the question of why I was handed these novels—almost compelled to write them—so that maybe 20 people could appreciate them. (I’m exaggerating a little, but am at a low place.)
So why live this sort of life? Why put myself by choice among people who did not have the choice to live the life they did? Because when ordinary people choose to struggle together to change their worlds, and when the world takes notice, and begins to reach out to them and stand with them and tell other people about what they are doing to claim their human rights and their dignity; and when the systems and powers that are oppressing and robbing those people finally have to stop telling their lies about them and back off; and when you have been a small part of standing with them and telling their story…there’s a deep, tired joy in all that makes you extraordinarily glad you got involved.
And once I get to a certain point in my novel where it stops becoming work, and characters take on a life of their own, and it’s hard to stop writing—that’s an adrenaline rush like no other.
So at times like these, when I feel everyone of my fifty-two years, and all the young writers on Twitter seem to understand how to navigate the publication and agenting system so much better than I do, and the war in Gaza and the ongoing depredations of ISIS, and tawdry reality of Ferguson, MO and the LAPD and Prime Minister Harper make me dread approaching the CPT Twitter account every morning, I remember and believe: