Permission To Be Human
Tal Ben Shachar an Israeli born psychologist who teaches a course called "The Art of Happiness" to undergraduates at Harvard University has a five point plan for personal happiness.
What concerns me here is point number 5. The permission to be human. His thesis is that in order to experience happiness you have to allow yourself to feel the whole range of human emotions from rage to glee, from curiosity to pride, and most important for this article, from profound sadness to intense joy.
His point if I understand correctly from an interview he did on 60 Minutes is that unless you allow yourself to experience the full range of human emotions you can't really be profoundly happy. In other words, to feel the height of positive emotions , you must allow yourself, even demand of yourself to feel the depth of sorrow including grief and bereavement.
Of course this is the message we try to drive home in our work at The Koby Mandell Foundation, whether to the children who have lost an immediate family member to terror that come to Camp Koby, to the mothers and widows who attend our emotional support and study groups, or to the thousands of students and adults we speak to each year in lectures in Israel and North America.
All of this was brought home to me when I spent a week accompanying "The Blessing of a Broken Heart", the play based on Sherri's book, in its East Coast tour in New York and Washington. Adapted from the book by Todd Salovey a drama professor at the University of San Diego and the and assistant artistic director at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, the play is faithful to the journey of bereavement loss, hope and spirituality that permeates the book, a chronicle of Sherri's journey through the first year after Koby's murder.
The play is breathtaking in its humanity and spell binding in its unfolding , but it was the reaction of the audience emphasiied it significance.. Several people came up to me after the play to say that they were care givers of the ill or elderly and that they regularly gave the book to people who were newly bereaved. That speaks of course, to the power of the book and its usefulness as a guide toward the hope and life that lie at the end of the tunnel of grief .
But one woman who I spoke to told me that she had learned something life changing from the play and from our discussion after. Here is an email she wrote after the play.
"The play was transforming! …I have two daughters, 18 and 20, who have Cystic Fibrosis and I saw much of my own process mirrored in the play and confirmed in my conversation with Seth afterwards. I wonder if the Foundation has thought to share their knowledge and skills with people who cope with chronic disease and their families."
Of course we have thought about expanding our program to populations other than the bereaved but were never able to work out the finances. The email continued:
"Lastly, I hope this last bit gets to Sherri - I stayed up reading her book until 4 AM. Through the years, I have risen to the challenge of many health crises with my children, and, have been blessed with many moments of the most exquisite and simultaneous joy and pain. But I always thought of them as moments, that the goal was not to constantly straddle the divide. I see now where I was wrong. Just as I embrace my joy, I must also embrace my pain to affirm my faith and myself.
I thought that to reconcile myself to my pain would mean to extinguish it. I didn't know I could live with it without the struggle against it. I knew I would never know why, but I thought that meant I was supposed to give my seal of approval to G-d and that would bring me peace. I didn't know until last night, that the pain is mine to keep, to hold. I have struggled against this pain every moment since my oldest daughter was born except for those rare exquisite moments when pain and joy comingle in equal measure. Now I struggle with the pain and my heart knows some peace.
To Help, To Heal, To Inspire is the motto of The Koby Foundation. It's exciting to know that Koby's influence is working in America as well as in Israel.