I found the "Me Magazine" I wrote in 6th grade while cleaning out the basement. Inside, I wrote that my favorite quote was by Hellen Keller.
"Keep your face to the sun and you cannot see the shadows"
Thinking back, I knew something then that continues to ring true now...life is hard. Sometimes it can feel like there is no coming back from the heartache it unleashes on us. As early as 12 I was seeking answers about how to endure.
I must have found comfort in Helen Keller's words because I read about her life in school and knew that she always believed in herself. I wanted to live with tenacity too-- to always push forward no matter what.
The thing is... when I looked around to see what other people did when they were sad I noticed a few things.
1.People got quiet- They didn't talk about their pain, what broke their hearts, or even the tough things on their minds. Most of the people I knew talked about only the good things.
Evidence: People sent annual Christmas letters to share all of their happy, proud, and exciting moments from the year, but mysteriously when it came to discussing the less flattering, more disappointing, even tragic events-- nope...not in the update. Somehow these details were struck from the record.
2. People created distance- They aways cried behind closed doors and emerged again with the blotchy evidence to prove tears were shed but a smile plastered in place as if it never happened. What was so wrong with tears?
3. People Apologize- "Sorry" they would say for feeling sad, noting that they were being "overly emotional" or that they didn't mean to lose composure.
Now, I was certainly no expert but even with my face to the sun, the shadows of life proved impossible to ignore. I watched as people in my life navigated loss, divorce, unemployment. Year by year, they endured heartache and healing...alone..emerging "happy" again and the rest of us none the wiser.
I think the same thing that brought me comfort at 12 concerns me now. In our quest to stamp out pain with persistent positivity we may conceal moments of vulnerability--- inadvertently preventing the moments of connection intended to expedite our healing.
What if we were never meant to skip over the sad parts? What if by facing the sun all of the time we miss out on the lessons we learn in the shadows?
Turns out nature already knows about this lesson.
Young or immature sunflowers track the sun's trail no matter what--- even on the cloudy days when the sunshine is entirely blocked by the clouds, they struggle and strain to face the sun. Like us, they twist themselves up to find the light at all costs.
Then, as if through wisdom or experience, the sunflower matures, and it stops following the sun’s direction. Instead, it commits to the east. It faces east all day....steadfast and resolute regardless of sun or clouds.
The sunflower learns, like I have, that even in the darkness, we grow.
And....we don't have to do it alone...in silence..at a distance...or behind closed doors.
In my work, I see the benefits of this every day.
I work with cohorts of people who are job searching. We talk about how hard it can be to face a major life transition, the unexpected hurt, shame, and disappointment that comes with job loss, and .......we do it together.
In the shadows of uncertainty, we build community, share resilience, celebrate wins, and gain momentum together.
Instead of chasing sunshine alone, we just plant our feet.....TOGETHER.