Faith,  Love,  Self-Reflection

The Pursuit of Happiness Goes Through the Road of Sadness

I thought my rendezvous with soul-sucking tribulation ended five years ago, after enduring more than two years of homelessness, it seemed that all the scars I harbored throughout my life finally had a meaning when I found love in the midst of indigence. I never believed in “happily ever after” but I falsely assumed that the worst was behind me thinking I found tranquility after a lifetime’s worth of successive heartbreaks.

Alas, my dance with happiness proved to be fleeting as a tidal wave of anguish washed over my home and shattered “normal”. The details of which I have given to God, there are some battles that will only lead to defeats even if one ends up victorious. What I will share is that my current plight makes my bout with destitution seem downright quaint by comparison; there are few pains as agonizing as your greatest treasure being taken from you.

However, as much as my spirit aches as a consequence of my current dilemma, this article is not an ode to ennui but a psalm of God’s grace. It took the biggest adversity I’ve ever faced for me to finally realize that misfortune is a prerequisite of life, we would not appreciate the rhythm of the light if it were not for the blues of night. A lifetime spent trying to avoid sorrow as I tried desperately to avoid the fate that befell my mom gave way to the wisdom that despair cannot be dodged.

When I was living at a homeless shelter in Wellington, Colorado called Harvest Farm in 2016, I interviewed a Vietnam War veteran named Lt. Col. Belt for one of the first stories I wrote for the Ghion Journal. As he was recounting the woes he went through as a result of alcoholism and PTSD, he told me that sadness cannot be escaped. Without thinking, I responded that we must just push through when seasons of famine arrive. To which he retorted:

“No, no, you cannot push through pains, you must relish them. People make the mistake of trying to circumvent sadness; in reality, times of grief must be embraced because those are the moments that give meaning to life.”

I kind of understood back then but now I fully understand. Life sans setbacks and suffering is like music without the bridge. Too many of us are conditioned from childhood on to seek happiness by all means and to avoid failure like Covid-19 variants. Our quest to attain perpetual bliss, ironically, is one of the leading causes of anxiety and depression. We are not equipped to handle loss as winning at all costs is imbued in our hearts by a society that places value on victory and punishes defeats.

In order to gain peace, we must unwind the indoctrination wrought by the pangs of our youth. I firmly believe that the source of all the afflictions we suffer through life can be traced back to an original trauma we once experienced as children. The rest of life becomes a testbed in which we have a chance to heal, each blow that comes nothing more than an opportunity to learn and grow from mistakes. Even the deepest injustices in this way become soils on which cedar trees of blessings grow.

I am reminded of Job in writing this article, we all know how everything was taken from him as the devil came knocking at his door in order to try his faith. Though he wavered, he ultimately passed the calamities of losing his most valuable possessions and his greatest treasures which were his children because his belief in God was greater than the deception of Satan. The book of Job ends on a bright note as he was fully restored. All is well that ends well…right?

Of course not, it was only a matter of time before he was bracketed by another set of misfortunes. Life is a roller coaster, one moment up, the next second down, the only constant is the ebb and flow of contentment. We celebrate life one minute only to weep over death the next. This knowledge has taught me to count my blessings during good times and double up on gratitude during seasons of lamentation. As the Good Book notes, no matter the circumstance it’s imperative to count it all as joy.

Armed with this insight, I woke up this morning feeling a tinge of funk but refused to give my hand to listlessness. I drove Uber for three hours only to find joy with the four passengers I gave a lift to, the first two were a couple, one of whom was a journalist with Politico, the conversation I shared with them affirmed in my heart that collective judgment is immoral and that only through opening up to each other can we advance justice in this world. The third passenger was from my homeland of Ethiopia, we talked about faith and the virtues of living an unselfish life.

Once bitten by deep pains from the past, life is a series of tests meant to wash away the traumas of childhood. #Guzo2Healing Click To Tweet

The last passenger was a “white” woman I picked up in Washington, DC. She told me that she was a social worker who never really partied too much in her life. Come to find out she led a conservative life because her parents led a life of parties and walked on the “wild” side. It’s the damndest thing, each generation reacting to the experiences of their parent’s, we end up in bondage trapped by the iniquities we experienced as children. Only when we realize that pain is not a curse but a crucible that actually edifies us once we pass through them do we attain liberty.

As fate would have it, the last passenger was headed to a house of worship called The District Church. I smiled and decided to move with the spirit, though I had planned on attending Medhane Alem Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Temple Hills, MD, I parked my car and walked in. As soon as I entered, the church choir was singing so I sat down to listen and take in the blessings of the moment. The words of the song let me know that God’s providence was the reason I found myself seated at that church.

“Heal the land, meet the need, set the captives free…”

Indeed! I launched Guzo (Journey) to Healing three months ago when my season of tribulation started unexpectedly. What seemed to many like a breakdown was actually a breakthrough because freedom to a society beset by the chains of self-pursuit and consumerism resembles madness. I spent close to forty years worrying about people’s opinions and trying to please everyone, it took the greatest transgression committed against me for me to finally stop seeking validation and instead just try do what pleases God. Even if I have set backs along the way, I know that was part of His plan. And for that, I say Amen!

“He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.” ~ Psalm 91:15-16

Be With Me