Thoughts: The Kind of Pain That Opens Your Heart

Monday, October 8, 2012

On Wednesday, October 3rd, I sat down with my husband and in-laws to watch the Presidential Debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. I oscillated between being totally engaged and slightly tuned-out, but rather than turn it off or leave to do something more interesting, I stuck around, and I did this out of obligation. I still haven't decided which of these two candidates (or which of the third party candidates, for that matter) I'll be voting for a month from now. So it seemed important to watch. I thought it might help me choose.

But, as is almost always true with me and things of a political nature, the debate just caused discomfort in my sensitive little soul. It caused frustration, cynicism, and a lack of confidence in the political process. Being distracted was probably just a coping mechanism to shut out the overall weirdness of the debate. Simply put, I was in pain -- a mild pain, but a pain nonetheless, and it was the sort of pain that shut me down. It was the sort of pain that made me smaller.

The next morning, I learned of the death of a child I never knew. She was the daughter (and still is the daughter) of Jill Thomas, a woman I've encountered a few times in her work as a photographer. Little Penny was less than two years old, and her death was completely unexpected.

As a gift to the grieving family, fellow photographer Jonathan Canlas offered to document the day of Penny's funeral. His pictures were compiled in a beautiful slideshow. Judging from the pictures, it was a day of family togetherness and community support. And of course, it was a day of mourning.

I want to encourage you to watch this video, but I also want to alert you to the fact that if you do, the tears will be plentiful.

So I watched this video on the morning of October 4th, and I openly wept. There was no restraining it. There was no being calm. I just bawled, sitting in bed, still in my pajamas. And I kept thinking about the video all day, weirdly wanting to watch it again. Aesthetically, it's beautiful, and the music is just my kind of music, but that wasn't why I wanted to watch it again.

The thing is: the kind of pain this video inspired in me was such a welcome change from the pain inspired by the debates from the night before. The pain from the debates, or from a thousand news stories that report on alarming trends or large-scale injustice, is the kind of pain that shuts me down, makes me smaller, and closes my heart.

The pain from Penny's funeral -- a more intimate, personal pain -- is the kind of pain that opens my heart. And that kind of pain was a welcome change. It wouldn't even appear on the same chart as the pain that exists for Penny's family and friends, because mine is a pain that can be turned off with a pause button, and their's is a pain that they live with. I honestly feel grateful that I got to appreciate a portion of that pain in a way that opened my heart back up.


On a related note, the emotions I felt while watching Penny's video reminded me of how I felt for a few weeks about a year ago, at the similarly premature death of another person I didn't know, Briana Blackwelder. An odd series of meaningful coincidences led me to learn of Briana's work as a midwife, and her death felt strangely immediate in my life. Anyway, thinking of Penny has made me think of Briana again, and though I can't embed the video here (it's hosted on Vimeo instead of YouTube), I'd love for you to watch this little tribute to her.

1 comment:

  1. Tomorrow I fly to Utah for about 16 hours -- to attend the funeral of my oldest and best friend's three-month-old. That pain has definitely opened my heart this weekend. I have had to hug Addison just often as is humanly possible (which isn't that often since Addison likes her space). Thanks for this beautiful post, Sara.


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