Years ago, I sat with eight fourth graders who were having a very hard time editing an essay draft. Once they had squeezed a sentence out, they absolutely couldn’t imagine changing it or improving it. It was hard enough figuring out those first 10 words. Late in the day on a winter afternoon, we squished into a circle and I told them how the imagination sometimes needs time to kick in.
Our minds can surprise us with what suddenly appears in a story, but we have to give it a chance to warm up, like the new energy-saving lights—they begin dim and then glow brighter and brighter. Editing is the chance for the bright glow to appear, for the work to get better as we give it time and attention. I asked them, diligent 9-year-olds with scrubby pencils and bitten erasers in hand, to hunker down on the carpet, take out their notebooks, and see what new might emerge. The group, silent and serious, settled in, and stared at their sentences, willing something novel to show itself.
One girl, Emma, a lover of writing, slammed her belly to the floor and put her nose right above her notebook. Had she glared any harder at her work, it would have melted. Minutes passed. She twirled her hair and sighed loudly. She tapped her pencil on the edge of the page. Other children wrote, crossed out words, ripped out pages. She stared. Other children crafted paragraphs, dialogue, one hummed as his pencil skidded along. She remained fixed, frozen. Time passed; a lot of time. I worried for her.
Suddenly, Emma sat up. She pulled her notebook to her knees. I watched her circle her opening sentence, draw an arrow down to the bottom of the page, and dash something off. She looked up at me then, her forehead crunched, her eyebrows tight and wrinkled. I nodded and held out my hand; she gave me her notebook. Her original first sentence read: “I want to live in California where it is warm all the time.” The bottom of the page showed this: “I love my life because every day the sun warms everything and it doesn’t matter where you are or if other kids like you.”
Every day the sun warms everything; there is a way to love your life.
Each morning the sun does its thing, offering us its fealty. Our job is to become aware of that rising, holding it as a grace or at least a gift—the gift of assurance that time continues and warmth exists and our days, even those of harshness and emptiness, can begin anew.
Happiness after loss is not about everything that we want suddenly appearing or about the past being rewritten. It’s about our re-storying the present moment through a new lens, one in which we recognize the bounty that is already present and the possibility of a new normal that includes both our torment and the gifts in front of us.
There is a way to love your life, and this is most true as we find a way to love the life right in front of us … the constant sun, the rhapsody of color, the boundlessness of sound. We may despise what has happened, be terrified of the future or beset with despair and yet, still, the world exists for us to experience anew, as if it were here to be played with, as if through its own eternal resurrection from night to day to night, and then day, it would like us to understand that the very nature of living is one of integration, dis-integration, surprising growth, and integration again. This is the way of the mortal life; it is what is. We can choose to become resonant with this organic flow of living by seeing, truly seeing its plenty. From that place we find a new story, written directly from the shattered pieces of the old.
Maria Sirois offers the course Writing Through Fear, Writing Toward Wisdom.
Dr. Maria Sirois is a master teacher, facilitator, and author. She is devoted to the science of well-being and the art of crafting a life and work that embodies health, passion, and success. As a positive psychologist (PsyD) and international consultant, she focuses on the resilience of the human spirit, particularly when under chronic stress, during significant transitions, and/or feeling the shock of wholesale change. Known for her wisdom, authenticity, and rampant humor, Maria brings a depth of experience in personal and leadership development for corporate and nonprofit professionals, as well as community members and those who serve in the health and wellness arenas. For those who seek personal transformation and an increase in meaning, happiness, and health, she brings a wealth of perspective and research from decades of study in the mind/body medicine and resilience disciplines. Her first entree into the territory of wellness was as a volunteer at the then-groundbreaking Benson-Henry Mind/Body Institute in Boston, where she learned to offer mindfulness practice and stress-reduction techniques to those suffering from chronic and acute pain. Her work today integrates this perspective with the tenets of wholeness found in positive psychology. With world thought leader Tal Ben-Shahar and WBI CEO and cofounder Megan McDonough, Maria co-leads a year-long certificate program for executives, educators, entrepreneurs, counselors, and the general public. In addition, Maria is the author of two books, A Short Course in Happiness After Loss (And Other Dark, Difficult Times) and Every Day Counts (Lessons in Love, Faith and Resilience from Children Facing Illness). For more about her work, visit mariasirois.com.