Lost & Found: “Joy is Greater Than Sorrow”

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.” But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed. – Khalil Gibran

lotusflowerThis quote from Khalil Gibran has been in my thoughts lately. I have always been struck by the visual image in this passage from Gibran’s The Prophet, where joy and sorrow are personified as intimate companions that accompany us in our daily lives, inevitably, and without judgment.

The idea that joy and sorrow are “inseparable” — not just a part of life, but its very substance — is strangely comforting to me now. Despite a number of professional achievements recently, I’ve encountered some unexpected sadness that has made it more difficult to appreciate the bigger picture. I’ve been trying to channel my inner-Oprah and “focus on the positive,” but again and again I come back to this passage.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow…”

startrekenterpriseLet’s start with the joy. I’ve been inspired by Black-Eyed Susan’s weekly meme, Little Lov’n Monday, to celebrate the work of fellow bloggers this week. Great folks such as Naysue at Black Girl Lost…In a Book who’s receiving her Master’s Degree in English this month (and is back posting with a vengeance).  Zetta Elliot, another frequent visitor, has been getting a lot of favorable attention lately for her books, Bird, and the newest release, A Wish After Midnight. Rich Watson is selling posters from his comic, City Mouse Goes West, while Consuela and Brian give Star Trek an awesome two thumbs up! I can’t wait to see it.

noblesse_oblige_awardTBoH was also honored to receive a Noblesse Oblige Award from the blog This So-Called Post-Post Racial Life last month. We have yet to fulfill all the duties of this award, but I’d like to take just a moment to share how delighted I was to discover PPR_Scribe’s writing about “Life, Culture, and Politics in the Obama Age.” Now I’m a regular reader. (Several times, I have found myself consulting her Guide to Blogging About Racist Crap and it has kept me from ranting unnecessarily!) I’ve also been dying to comment on the continuing series about The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, but I’m behind at least four episodes! And soon as I can catch up, I’m looking forward to joining that conversation. Thanks for spreading the joy, PPR.

hope_home_smallAnd here’s some exciting news: my friend, Kwame Dawes, recently won a Webby Award in Art for the site,  “Hope: Living and Loving with HIV in Jamaica.” (He’s also has been featured previously on this site for his inaugural poem about President Obama.) This multi-media reporting project brings together Dawes verse with photograph, music, and interviews to raise public awareness and support. Make sure to take a look and let me know what you think.

…And others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”

Finally, some personal news. Earlier this week, my Aunt Ellen passed away. I was fortunate enough to see her last Thanksgiving with my daughter and although she was in her eighties and suffering from Alzheimer’s, she still seemed as vibrant as ever. I’ve mentioned my great-aunt here before; only two months ago, I recalled the tiny Ankh necklace that she always wore as a reminder of her work abroad:

Once I got older, the hieroglyph formed an unexpected bond between me and my great aunt, an educator who lived overseas in Ghana with my uncle during the 1970s as part of a humanitarian initiative to implement new farming techniques in West Africa. The tiny Ankh necklace that she purchased decades ago during a visit to Cairo is still tucked beneath her blouse today. To her it is a cherished keepsake; for me, it is a reminder of the adventures she encountered as a black woman from the South traveling so far from home.

She was one of my grandmother’s sisters and they were as close as Frieda and I are today. If there is a heaven, I know they are arm-in-arm again, catching up over a game of Pokeno. So a little love goes out to my aunt, and to my own sister, whose friendship I am more grateful for today than I have ever been before.

I had hoped to attend the funeral, but I missed my flight home yesterday. I’ll have to find another way to remember her kindness and gracious manner, the plate of cookies and tall glasses of Tang that she gave to me and Frieda as kids, and the way she always reminded us to send thank you notes after Christmas and birthdays. Perhaps this post and the words of Khalil Gibran are as good a place as any to start.

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12 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks for the shot out!

    I’m sorry to hear of your loss, but I enjoyed reading your memories of her. It’s the little things that we always cherish about friends and family.

    Much love, sis…


  2. Claudia,

    I had a aunt I loved very much and she loved me. Auntie (Everybody else called her Aunt Mattie) but I called her Auntie. It’s been twenty plus years, and I swear I miss her as much today as I did when she passed.

    You have named so much joy and I hope you find comfort in it as you also experience your sorrow. I believe and accept they are inseparable and thank you for reminding me. I may need to pull out my copy of Gibran, too.

    My sister and I are close- kind happens when you’re ten months apart. Thank you for reminding me, too, how blessed I am to have her. She was my childhood best friend and I fiercely protected her (not that she needed it). Today, she is my confidant and I still feel a need to shield her.

    I’m going to check all the links you shared. Every time I come here I either learn something or my heart gets full; a lot of times both.

    I’m glad you’re here. Holding you and your family in the light.


  3. Posted by Wilhelmina Jenkins on May 12, 2009 at 8:53 PM

    Sometimes life is just overloaded with loss. Your aunt sounds like a wonderful person who lived a full life. I’m keeping you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.


  4. Posted by elliottzetta on May 12, 2009 at 9:49 PM

    Hey, Claudia–I’m sorry to hear about your loss…it probably doesn’t help to hear this now, but remember that the ancestors live within us–quite literally they are our DNA, our flesh and bone and blood…I know you’ll continue to honor your aunt in the way you live your life. Thanks for taking time to shine light on others despite the shadow you’re standing in…z


  5. Claudia,

    I remember those plates of cookies and glasses of Tang :-).

    When I attended Auntie’s service yesterday, I too was reminded of how grateful I am of our friendship and our sisterhood. Auntie was a representative of a long dynasty of phenomenal women. A long line of women who didn’t hide their intellect or choose to be doormats for anyone. They embraced their strength and allowed their thoughts and ideas to shine through for the world to see . And when they confronted obstacles, they plowed through them; making a way, when there seemed to be no way. We must now carry on the torch and instill the same sense of grace, integrity, and strength within our daughters and our nieces.

    Auntie wasn’t afraid to let her light shine. And in doing so, she gave the two of us permission to do the same.



  6. Thanks so much everyone for your kind words. Just writing this post and hearing what you all have to say in response makes me feel stronger already.


  7. Stopping by always leaves me with sites to visit, questions to ponder and emotions on which to linger. Tonight is no exception. I have not spoken to my grandmother in a bit and she is quite up there in age. She is the one who gave us the the fresh apple muffins and sorrel before bed. I am going to call her tonight.

    Sorry for your loss and thanks for the reminder.


  8. I read a post like this, it is so full, so very full. I remember that post about your aunt! I take pieces of this, savor them and think about them sporadically. Usually, I don’t respond? What is there to say, so much food for thought! As the joy and sorrow resolve themselves, there will be peace.


    • I really appreciate your kinds words, Edi. This past weekend at Frieda’s graduation (yay!) I saw my mom and she gave me my auntie’s necklace. I am so proud to have it and now it means even more.


  9. Posted by jo on May 31, 2009 at 3:02 PM

    sorry about your aunt’s passing, claudia (and frieda).

    nice links throughout this post.

    the inseparability of joy and pain — you penetrate this mystery, you have reached the very heart of life. let me know, okay?



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