The Sharp Jagged Edges of Reality

“It is strange that absence can feel like a presence. A missing so complete that, if it were to go away, I would turn . . . stunned . . . empty, when before . . . at least [there was] something.” Adapted quote from Crossed by Ally Condie.

I’ve been radio silent for a while. Bad blogging policy, I know. The thing is, August is hard. August is full of memory—the greatest of joys and the sharpest of agonies. August is always a journey of what was, what I wish had been, and a bitter contending with what is. August is the sharp reality that part of myself has died, and the overwhelming acknowledgement of the presence of loss caused by what should have been, but what isn’t.

I’ve been toying with ideas of what I could write for weeks. I’ve had several good ideas, but my heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t want to wear a brave face or find the silver lining. I wanted to feel the sharp, jagged edges of my pain and remember. I didn’t want to sugar coat, when I was tasting nothing of sugar, but instead the sharp, acridness of bitterness.

The truth is, I have lived for so long with my loss, that I can’t imagine life without its presence. It really is strange that absence can feel more tangible and more real than things I can hold in my hand. That pain can feel more like living than happiness.

One of my favorite songs, even before the loss of Serena, is the Goo Goo Dolls song “Iris.” “You bleed just to know you’re alive.” Pain, sadly, is what makes us feel the most agonizingly alive—it’s not just me, it’s the human condition.

When our heart is breaking, when our soul seems to be splintering into shards of brittle glass, the very agony of it seems to leave us wide awake. We are pulled from the monotony, the apathetic, the mundane drudgery of daily living, and we feel mind crushingly alive.


When I was young, the concept of this intrigued me. I recognized the reality that our capacity for joy seemed to be in direct proportion with the extent of our pain . . . aka Great Sorrow=Great Joy.

What I, in my naivety and idealism failed to understand was the great chasm, that black void of numbness that separated those two places. I had no inkling of the “zombie” years that follow intense grief. How could I, never having experienced any real loss? I was blissfully ignorant and so could love the theory, the philosophy of it, without being touched by the reality. The philosophy seemed deep and wise, almost compelling. It had the allure of the bad boy to it–you knew he wasn’t good for you, but there was something so darn seductive about that very darkness . . .

Cathleen Schine puts it so well through the thoughts of one of her characters in her book, The Three Weissmanns of Westport.

As a girl, she had affected despair and emotional pain in an attempt at depth. Now she had no need of affectations. The despair was real, the pain was real. And depth? It no longer beckoned, that rich, worldly dimension of sophistication, of adulthood. Depth spread itself out before her instead, a hole, a pit, a place of infinite loss.

I’m a fan of “Vampire Diaries” and in one of the first seasons Caroline Forbes, one of the main characters, makes a comment of how she wants to be deep, but she’s coming to the realization that she is anything but deep. She makes the comment: “I’m worse than shallow. I’m a kiddie pool.”

That quote has always resonated with me. When I was young, I desperately wanted to be deep. I thought I was, but the reality is, until you’ve lived a little, lost a little, and hurt a lot, you don’t have much capacity for depth.

Now . . . now, however . . . it’s a different story. Now that I am old, my depth spreads out before me like the pit that Schine alludes to and a part of me would give anything to go back to the ignorance that was my kiddie pool self, but that wouldn’t be real. It wouldn’t be authentic. It wouldn’t be living. It would be pretending, acting, going through the motions without allowing LIFE to touch me, impact me, change me . . . transform me.

We hide our pain because others are uncomfortable with it. We don’t want to be reminded that life has a dark side. We close our eyes to it, until it is undeniable—until it sinks its teeth into us and won’t let us go. Only then do we acknowledge its presence, the very real fact that life is as much pain as it is happiness, as much ugliness as it is beauty.

We want to believe that this is not so—that if we do the right things, we can have all of the happy with none of the sad, but life isn’t a simple mathematic equation where A +B=C (A being-if I work hard, B being, if I treat others kindly, then C, life will be fair and give me good things). Sometimes A plus B is going to equal X or maybe Z. In the words of Dan Allender in his book The Healing Path

        Most of us presume that if we work hard, play fair, and keep on doing what is required, life will work out well. And if it doesn’t, then we simply need to find out what we’re doing wrong, correct it, and presto—life works. But that formula doesn’t always get the predicted results.

I often think of the line in “Princess Bride” where Wesley tells Buttercup, “Life is pain, Highness! Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

Pain is a part of life. It is the reality. Why do we try to pretend otherwise?

So for today, this is my nod to my own pain, and a nod to your pain. This is me not pretending that I am okay. This is me acknowledging that, though I heal, I will never be complete, for a piece of my heart and soul went with my darling girl when she left me. I will not pretend that that can happen and that I will not be forever changed.

I wish we didn’t have to break. I wish we didn’t have to face betrayal, illness, and death. I wish life could be lived in the happy moments, without the sadness. I wish that the horrors of ISIS, the child sex trade, and abuse were not a reality in our world. I wish that there was no such thing as cancer or SMA.

But that is life. And life, despite the pain, is worth living. And I am glad to be alive—to FEEL alive—and to know, when I hug my son and my daughters, how lucky I am to have them here and healthy, and how incredibly grateful I am that I get to watch them grow.alive


10 thoughts on “The Sharp Jagged Edges of Reality

  1. Marisa Horne
    Gen. Psychology 2301.C05
    This reminded me of how people cope with a crisis or stress. Seems as though the way you deal with your loss and pain is to remember what it felt like. This in a way motivates you to keep going. Although, it hurts it shows you that not everything in life is peaches and cream but it is rough.

  2. Life is full of all kinds of surprises. As I read this blog, I was reminded that when we are in pain, sometimes it makes us stronger as a person. I remember my mom telling me her life story as a young teenager. She unexpectedly ran away from home, and was kidnapped. My mother, a naïve 16 year old was rapped and almost killed. She had to live with this pain for quite some time, but it made her so much stronger as a grown woman. My mother remembers the pain that this incidence out her through. But she doesn’t wallow in that pain, instead she uses that pain to motivate her to protect the ones she cares about. Pain can make us feel alive, but love can do so much more. – Alyssa Valdez Gen. Psych 2301 C04

  3. Haylee Guerra
    Gen. Psychology 2301 C05
    This post definitely shows how I feel sometimes. It’s almost as if I don’t want the pain I feel to go away because I don’t know who I would be without the pain I have felt or the things I have been through. I think that this is how everyone is deep down and we just have to feel pain to feel like we can feel anything at all.

  4. This is painfully true that in order to feel hope you have to know despair first. I myself tend to use the defense mechanism we learned in class, sadly, especially repression to the point of explosion, so reading this I know all too well on how we should learn to cope with our emotions especially ones that can hurt you more if you dwell on them too much. So being able to except everything and know that the pain we feel makes us human and makes us have empathy for others, which I too am thankful for my experiences, they make you learn and help more than they tend to brake along the way.

  5. Hello professor Graham, this is Jennifer Loya from General Psychology 2301 C03. I agree that life isn’t as easy as we think, specially when we are young adults. I do love Vampire Diaries, its literally the best show! When Caroline said “I’m worse than shallow. I’m a kiddie pool.” I never understood how deep this statement was, until I read your blog. This relates with Anxiety, for example if and individual is upset it will cause for the individual to be more upset. One way this problem could be fixed is by copping with stress. Emotion focus will have to be taken in place in order to regulate the situation. This helps control the pain that one is feeling at the moment.

  6. Hey professor, this is Riley Taylor from your psychology class. In the past, I have seen friends go through the grief of losing a family member. I never really knew how to comfort them or understand how they felt because up to that point, I hadn’t experienced the loss of a loved one, until my grandfather died a couple of years ago. The pain was so great that it numbed me for quite a while. It was like shellshock. The pain that I had seen from others finally made sense to me and I was able to empathize with them. That lass made me appreciate all the people in my life who care for and love me. After experiencing the sharp edges of reality and letting the grief take its course, I hugged my mother tighter and told my dad that I love him, because those connections are precious.

  7. I thoroughly enjoyed this blog as it detailed and captured the reality of pain in our lives. The balance between pain and happiness is an ever changing cycle as life will have its good moments and the ugly ones. To be living, one will experience pain, to experience pain is to be human. The analogies of having a piece of you gone with that loved one is a great description of the feeling. Time heals all wounds, even though the stress we experience with the event can make that time feel like eternity, but what is left are the scars that continue to stay with us. Stress can be very difficult to deal with and if the event begins to cause chronic stress then it can be very challenging. The best way I’ve found to deal with chronic stress is going to those I trust and letting them help me through whatever happens in life.

  8. Hi professor this is Madisen Lorenzo.

    This article is very eye opening in a sense that everyone experiences pain and happiness on every different level and in different ways. Walking day-to-day we don’t pass people and think if they are presently in emotional pain or happiness. The scary thing is that it’s mostly peoples pain that shapes them into the people they become, not the happiness. Pain most of the time is what teaches lessons. A quote i remember from “The Fault in our Stars” (which by the way I hate reading, however this was a great book if you haven’t read it I recommend it) is “pain demands to be felt,” which could not be more true. People can try to avoid the reality of whats going on but eventually it will come up again. Since you mentioned it I too am a “Vampire Diaries” fan, I am actually re-watching the entire series right now 🙂 .

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