I have long known that happiness and sadness are not mutually exclusive emotions. And it’s no mystery to anyone who knows me that I tend to experience emotion on a plane that is both guttural and transparent.
I remember, as a child, my Grandma Hogan comforted me by holding my pink, splotchy, tear-stained face in her hands saying, “The Irish feel things deeply…in a way others just can’t understand.”
I’m not sure how directly my emotions are tied to “the old sod,” but I do know that there is an undeniable depth to my feelings. I’ve experienced happiness and joy where my heart beats so loudly I can hear it in my head and feel as though it has expanded in my chest cavity to the point it will likely explode.
I have felt sadness so profoundly that my chest physically hurt. The weight of anguish made it difficult to even breathe, and when I finally surrendered enough to exhale, I was certain that I lost something of myself in that breath.
I have felt the anxiety only parents know when watching their child compete or perform. With bated breath, it seems as if your heart pauses mid-beat, only to resume once the child’s task is complete and pride replaces the post once held by anxiousness.
And then there are those occasions where I have felt completely happy and completely sad simultaneously; not half and half, but if there existed a gauge to measure emotion, it would read 100% happy and 100% sad.
I just don’t know how to describe that conflux of emotion in a single word.
I remember feeling it for the first time the day my Grandma Hogan’s cat died, the same day she held my face in her hands.
We didn’t have a pet of our own yet, and I wanted nothing more than an animal to love that would love me back. That’s why I hated that damn cat with every fiber of my being. I’d chase it around my grandma’s house yelling, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.” But it ran from me every time, and on the rare occasion I did catch her, she’d hiss and scratch at me until blood gushed from my single-digit aged skin.
Damn you, Beauty, for forcing me to pretend it didn’t hurt, and forever proving that emotional scars heal far slower than physical ones.
I’m not going to lie. I was thrilled that cat was dead, until, that is, we walked into Grandma’s kitchen and saw her crying. I never saw my grandma cry before. This tiny woman looked even tinier sobbing in her rocking chair. Without that damn cat to compete for rocker space, I crawled on to Grandma’s lap and cried and cried and cried. I was completely happy and completely sad.
That duality has returned many times over the years, most recently, last month with a Marquette University basketball game as the backdrop. The happiness meter was off the charts. My daughters and their friends, our friends from college and beyond college and their children and their friends all surrounded me.
I was so happy, and yet, the notable absence of those loved ones who can only be present in spirit and in memory left me so, so very sad.
There ought to be a word for that blend of emotion, but I couldn’t come up with one.
And, then, perhaps not so ironically, Death entered my mind.
Death, the narrator of Markus Zusak’s remarkable novel The Book Thief, is a surprisingly likable and humorous character. He speaks of first seeing the colors associated with his difficult work, and then he sees the faces.
Perhaps my emotion could be articulated through color? For me, 100% happy is a spectacular fuchsia, and my 100% sad would be a gunmetal blue-grey. So it would stand to reason that this dichotomous emotion I experience would be a welcoming, soothing, peaceful color in the deep purplish end of the color chart.
A feeling only attainable when the brilliance of blessings—cherished, now mourned, from the past, savored and protected in the present, and dreamt of and hoped for the future—blend into one.
Benjamin Moore Paint color 2116-30 is named Cabernet. Sounds good to me.