Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Inside Out

In 2003, I watched a Japanese animated movie called Grave of the Fireflies. Directed by Isao Takahata, it's a Studio Ghibli film about two children left to live with an aunt when their mother dies as a result of the firebombing of Tokyo. This movie affected me so deeply that once when describing it to someone I actually forgot it was animated. It's brilliant, profound, and deeply moving. And it's about loss and grief (and war and compassion and survival); I watched it on a hot summer night not long after Grace died. I still remember how I couldn't stop crying during most of the movie, how it seemed to speak directly to me and what I was feeling. 

All of this is to say that Sunday night Annabelle and I went to the drive in here in Wellfleet to see Pixar's Inside Out. It was Annabelle's fourth time seeing the movie, and even though she had explained it to me I couldn't quite understand what to expect. You see the emotions inside a girl's head. Joy, anger, sadness, etc all personified. That day the NYT ran an Op Ed by a psychiatrist about how the movie accomplished so much, which I read with great interest. 

So off we go, just an hour after arriving at our little apartment in Truro, above a print studio and the room where I teach, all thanks to the marvelous Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill. We ate burgers at The Dairy Bar. One of us had an icy Cape Cod Red beer. 

Before the movie came a short called Lava, which also made me cry. But that's another story. As soon as Inside Out started, with the birth of the protagonist, Riley, and the beginning of her core memories, I became so moved and engaged that--in the way great books and movies can do--the world melted away. I laughed a lot as I watched. But I also, well, bawled. When it reached its magnificent ending, which even though I'm about to reveal something about it believe me it won't ruin it for you, I was not only sobbing but also was moved in a deep, profound way. In it, Joy and sadness realize they must coexist, that everything--memories, experiences, and life itself--must have both. 

I've oversimplified, of course. But this idea is the very one I've been striving toward since Grace died. I remember my first step in this realization: I was buckling Annabelle into her car seat not long after we'd brought her home from China. And she touched my face with both of her small hands and looked right into my eyes and grinned. I still remember how my heart swelled, almost a real physical feeling of it opening like a flower blooming. Yet I was simultaneously acutely aware of the sharp acute grief there as well, which did not feel like something growing but more like a hole punched into my heart. In that moment I saw how these seemingly opposing feelings can live together. How not only can they, but that they must. 

Like every dreamy, bookish girl who came of age in the 1960s, I read Rod McKuen and Kahil Gibran with equal passion. (Also Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson) After watching Inside Out, I sought Gibran's poem on sorrow. I remembered lines from it, but wanted to see if he also mentioned joy in it. To my surprise, his poem on sorrow is actually titled "On Joy and Sorrow". 

I've copied it for you here, and hope it helps you as you experience both. 

On Joy and Sorrow
 Kahlil Gibran

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. 

Some of you say, "Joy is greater thar 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. 

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.