Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Shards of Pain Become Pearls of Wisdom

There are times when you're faced with decisions that you just don't want to make. But the only way to move forward is to make that tough choice. But even if it is the right decision, it can still hurt.

It's called "heartache," but every part of me hurts today. (Maybe I just have Swine Flu & don't know it yet. Oh, the irony.)

Today in my English usage class, we were talking about collective nouns & the first part of this short essay by Dr. Rachel Naomi Kemen was used as an example. Never have I been so grateful for a written example of usage. It was just what I needed to hear to soothe this ache inside. I just really hope I'm not breaking any copyright laws by posting this. It's kinda long, but definitely worth the read.

"Pearls of Wisdom" from My Grandfather's Blessings by Rachel Naomi Kemen, M.D.
(Riverhead Books, 2000)

Some of the oldest and most delightful written words in the English language are the collective nouns dating from medieval times used to describe groups of birds and beasts. Many of these go back five hundred years or more, and lists of them appeared as early as 1440... These words frequently offer an insight into the nature of the animals they describe. Sometimes this is factual and sometimes poetic. Occasionally it is profound: a pride of lions, a party of jays, an ostentation of peacocks, an exultation of larks, a gaggle of geese, a charm of finches... and a parliament of owls are some examples. Over time, these sorts of words have been extended to other things as well. One of my favorites is pearls of wisdom.

An oyster is soft, tender, and vulnerable. Without the sanctuary of its shell it could not survive. But oysters must open their shells in order to "breathe" water. Sometimes while an oyster is breathing, a grain of sand will enter its shell and become a part of its life from then on.

Such grains of sand cause pain, but an oyster does not alter its soft nature because of this. It does not become hard and leathery in order not to feel. It continues to entrust itself to the ocean, to open and breathe in order to live. But it does respond. Slowly and patiently, the oyster wraps the grain of sand in thin translucent layers until, over time, it has created something of great value in the place where it was most vulnerable to its pain. A pearl might be thought of as an oyster's response to its suffereing. Not every oyster can do this. Oysters that do are far more valuable to people than oysters that do not.

. . .
Disappointment and loss are a part of every life. Many times we can put such things behind us and get on with the rest of our lives. But not everything is amenable to this approach. Some things are too big or too deep to do this, and we would have to leave important parts of ourselves behind if we treated them in this way. These are the places where wisdom begins to grow in us. It begins with the suffering that we do not avoid or rationalize or put behind us. It starts with the realization that our loss, whatever it is, has become a part of us and has altered our lives so profoundly that we cannot go back to the way it was before.

Something in us can transform such suffering into wisdom. The process of turning pain into wisdom often looks like a sorting process. First, we experience everything. Then one by one we let things go, the anger, the blame, the sense of injustice, and finally, even the pain itself, until all we have left is a deeper sense of the value of life and a greater capacity to live it.

So I have a new goal: I shall be like an oyster. A wise man once told me, "Nothing worthwhile is ever easy." I'm hoping that I can take this rough spot & make it into a pearl, that I can gain wisdom, that I can discover the value in the hurt & the worth of that grain of sand. Challenges like these define who we are.

One other thought - Have you ever seen inside the shell of an oyster? I have. That inner lining is also pearlescent. & I love silver linings.


Goojah Mama said...

Life is full of silver linings and I am grateful that you are always looking for them and helping me to see them too. Be strong, be brave and know I only want beautiful pearls for you always.
Much love!!

katydid said...

May I please make a comment? high school graduation my junior year, our valedictorian used the oyster analogy as the sole basis for his speech. HAha. It was epic. And slightly difficult to understand--he spoke very quickly and had a slightly fobby accent. Hahah. So thanks for reminding me of some great memories. :)

Melany said...

Dear Kelsey Holloway,

You are already an amazing person. The pearls that you have made in your life have permanently altered the lives of many. Me included. Just remember that you have to smack a couple times to fully appreciate the perfect stick, Holloway.

Kristen said...

silver linings ARE awesome!

Pablo said...

Thanks for posting that essay, I really needed it. Needless to say, life is at times quite difficult.