Art intersects life again and again and again.
I am in the midst of a very long bittersweet season. The beautiful and the brutal. Births and deaths and sickness and health. It has been long. I feel as though have been clawing my way to calm for years, day by day. Sometimes hour by hour. Even minute by minute.
This week, I found myself reading Shauna Niequist's Bittersweet: Thoughts on Grace, Change, and Learning the Hard Way, and rediscovered how we are all more alike than different, that the journey I'm on is shared, and that finding hope, understanding more about who God is, and stretching yourself can be truly bittersweet...in the best possible sense. And that's a beautiful thing. Even clawing your way to calm day by day is a beautiful thing.
Niequist's essays in Bittersweet chronicle and explore those small and big moments, momentous and fleeting, that are bitter, sweet, and decidedly both. She describes her quest to grow to know God, herself, and others better in the midst of the groans and laments, the exaltations and triumphs, as well as through the ordinary, easy pleasures in between (like swiping handfuls of fresh-picked blueberries all day long from the lake cottage countertop).
I feel a kinship with Niequist. Her experiences, musings, and pleasures parallel some of my own....like a deep, abiding ardor for Lake Michigan ("Learning to Swim"), finding myself through books and writing, pursuing a writer's life ("Your Story Must Be Told"), soul nourishing girls' weekends ("Alameda"), the joys and pains of motherhood, cooking ("What We Ate and Why It Matters"), seeking balance, gatherings of true friends together around a table ("Feeding and Being Fed"), the pain of losing babies ("Heartbeat" and "What Might Have Been"), and learning to lean into God and away from self. Like other memoirists whose main form is essays, (such as Glennon Melton's Carry On, Warrior), I feel as though Niequist gave voice to some of my deepest laments and eloquently explored the questions that have been at the forefront of my mind during this bittersweet season. Which brings me back to this touchstone idea....we are more alike than different. Art intersects life. Again and again.
To me, her words are profound and true, unadorned and plain spoken, and speaks right to where I've been or where I currently sit. Her style is approachable. Thoughtful. Kind. Grace-filled. Like sitting with a wise friend, who not only knows how to walk through pain, and but can sit with others while they walk through their own.
Teaching my son to breathe through intense pain. Losing babies. First smiles. First laughs. First words.Watching my boys struggle.Losing a parent. Books. Meeting new friends. Saying goodbye to old ones. Having a beautiful, diverse, far-flung tribe of friends that feel like family. Sunsets.Celebrating a new home while saying a long goodbye to the old.Bringing people together, in community, around the table.The joyous sound of my husband's laugh. Bittersweet.
As I write, I am stretched out on a couch in my baby's hospital room. He's recovering from major surgery. Bitter. It appears to be successful and he has been a peaceful, compliant patient. Sweet. I have relearned, especially today, that God's in control and I'm not. Sweet, but HARD SWEET, eucharisteo, if you know what I mean. My big boys are missing us, and we are missing them. Beautiful bittersweet.
That's life, I think. We don't get it all easy, or we won't grow. We don't get it all hard, or we won't grow. The bittersweet is just the right fertilizer for our seeking little souls. At least, it is for me.
Other books by Shauna Niequist: