When I was tiny, I was enthralled by the worn picture books at my grandparents’ house. Books my mom read, bearing the smudged corners of a well-loved story. My favorite was one from the early days of Cabbage Patch Kids, accompanied by yarn-haired dolls in small dresses.
Most of that story is lost to memory, but a bit of it has stayed with me over the years since I last read it. The simple, sweet narrative described a character as feeling “happy-sad.” Things were changing for her, and it was hard but exciting. Loss was on its way, but with it would come unfathomable gain. Those watercolored pages taught me something about myself, something I’m still trying to grasp as an adult.
Emotions rarely come to me neatly and cleanly. They often come jumbled together, seeming to contradict themselves. More often than not, I am not happy and I’m not sad. I’m happy-sad.
Before I knew anything about personality types, before therapy, before I could name the reasons I felt so deeply, I knew I could be happy-sad.
Through childhood moves and middle school drama, when my mom asked how I was doing, I could say, “happy-sad.” And now, preparing to step into so much unknown, I’m happy-sad. Fear and excitement and wonder and apprehension weave an overwhelming tapestry, the weight of which feels more like a rug left out in the rain. Which is to say, heavy.
And I feel that weight, even as I laugh with friends and toast to the future. I feel every bit of the change, the ripples that will soon become waves. Historically, my first response to this sensitivity has been fear. April has always smelled like change and sent me into a frenzied attempt to cling tightly to whatever and whoever was in grasping distance.
But this year, this season, is teaching me how to stay still. To relax my clenched fists and allow the rhythms of life to happen around me with assurance that they are not an assault on my peace of mind.
In the past week I have cried anticipatory tears and mournful ones. I’ve been filled with wonder at the journey I’ve been on and with uncertainty about the places that journey could lead. I have counted down days, and sometimes the number feels like freedom but other times it feels like chains. Occasionally both at the same time.
But if I’ve learned anything in the nearly twenty years since I first read those words “happy-sad,” I’ve learned to hold all of these contradictions in my two hands like so many flowers. I’ve learned to accept the gift of these deep feelings instead of naming them Chaos and seeking an escape.
Because sometimes on a messy day, the clouds part, and the sunshine and rain create beautiful stripes of color. And I would never trade that beauty for a clear day. Without all my happy and sad and afraid and brave, without this jumble of emotions, I would never quite absorb beauty in the way I do. So I’m grateful. And I’m happy-sad.