October 2020 | by jamie beeson
I cried as we drove away. It was like sitting at the end of a dramatically intense movie watching the credits roll, the bloopers, the edited scenes, and just letting the emotional dust settle. It was the end of a long ride filled with both highs and lows. I cried over the things we were leaving behind, but felt a sense of relief about moving away into something new. It was bittersweet.
I had that same feeling creep in as we were getting my oldest son ready to move away for college. The “movie credits” rolling of his little boy antics while watching a young man prepare for exciting days ahead. Bittersweet.
When someone asks me how I’m doing, is it an acceptable response to say “good sprinkled with bad?” Sounds silly said like that. I was in Colombia visiting with a woman who had lost her husband to a homicide, literally between good and evil. Her family had engaged in a “war” to clean up the streets of Cali, Colombia and speak hope into people’s lives. It disrupted the business of the drug cartel and his life was taken as a result. As she told her story, I could feel the emotion as I imagined the days that led up to the event and the days that followed. Right after he was shot, she described running to his body lying on the ground, kneeling, weeping, calling for help...and then she said she declared, “It is well with my soul.” She knew the battle they were fighting was worth it despite its dangers. She knew the days of their lives were numbered. She knew her husband was a martyr. She had maximum bittersweet emotions that allowed her to feel both extreme loss and extreme peace...all at the same time.
When did we start requiring ourselves to feel either all down or all up? Can we experience joy in the middle of grieving without feeling guilty about it? Can we experience discouragement in the middle of an exciting and inspiring time without feeling ashamed? Can we be good, but still feel a sprinkle of “bad”? I’m saying maybe we should learn just how bittersweet emotions can and should coexist and sometimes, right next to each other.
They say the salt in a baking recipe brings out the flavor of the sweet; it brings it to the forefront. Like the salt in baking, the bitter parts of our lives can highlight or spotlight the sweet. Without the bitter, the sweet may fade into the background, blend in, remain hidden, or go unnoticed. But with the bitter, the sweet becomes clearer, taking center stage and maybe even redefining what bitter or sweet actually is.
For seven years, my son used to wake up and have a seizure 4-6 mornings a week. The days he did not have a seizure, the normal ordinary uneventful mornings, became celebrated mornings. I craved normal and uneventful. How often do we get in the habit of craving the extraordinary, building our lives around one large, exciting event, looking to the next, all the while missing the ordinary and precious everyday moments? Our “bitter” of seizures made the “sweet” of normal mornings filled with the chaos of lots of little boys seem precious. I’m saying that the sweet days of normal family chaos became highlighted because of the bitter brought by seizures. It helped us celebrate the sweet and become better from the bitter.
The contrast of highs and lows are found in nature. Living in the northwest, we get this experience daily. People who travel to the northwest are always so taken aback at how big our mountains are. And yes, their grandeur set alongside the smallness of a person creates a contrast that carves the way for majesty to enter our minds and souls. Lows put the highs even higher. This is felt in a season change. When that first crisp, fall morning is felt after the end of a heated summery day, it awakens something in our senses...in our soul. Fresh air. First signs of spring after a long hard winter causes our heart to bloom like the first buds. Warmth of sun.
Artists use a term called “white space.” It’s about utilizing the absence of content to highlight and draw focus towards one subject. The balance of negative space (or white space) with a focal point and content draws our eyes to what the artist intends for us to see. Maybe the “negative space” or “bitter” in our lives are meant to do the same...to draw our eyes to focus on what is intended to have our attention.
What if we became better at seeing the bitter as an acceptable, normal, and helpful part of our life experience? What if we welcomed it, learned from it, grew from it, and looked for the opportunity wrapped up inside of it? This year has been bitter in many ways. Some have experienced extreme lows and losses. It’s not always easy to find the sweet inside of bitter darkness, but if we practice in the lesser extremes of bitter, we become better at finding the sweet when it’s more intense.
- Could we encourage each other to savor each sweet moment brought about by this year full of bitter?
- Could we celebrate the things that had been hidden, but are now brought out in front?
- And can we become better from all this bitter?
I invite you to bravely step into the bittersweet with me and appreciate both...even at the same time….not requiring one to be absent of the other.