“Mourning calls forth dancing. Dancing calls forth mourning. And it is this mysterious duel that has become a duet.” – Henri Nouwen
Firstly, there is a clear dynamism in this saying: a movement between mourning and dancing, crying and laughing, suffering and joy. One experience invites the realisation of the other experience in a free-flowing manner. It respects the cycle of life like the formation of rain, the photosynthesis of plants, the death and growth of the universe. It is a balanced perspective that can appear in a conversation between colleagues at tea break. We can talk about the ups and downs, we can laugh out loud and sigh in empathy, we can move from one affective experience to another.
Secondly, Nouwen speaks of a tension in “this mysterious duel”. He is referring to two seemingly opposing experiences. It doesn’t seem to make sense from an intellectual point of view. But I think we can all agree that we live with many healthy tensions. In any given day, we may face worries and anxieties at work and home. At the same time, we may experience glimpses of hope and moments of delight. There is a healthy frustration in holding together these tensions. We also know it is best not to favour joy over suffering, but to accept whatever comes our way with equanimity.
Thirdly, we can understand Nouwen’s reference to a “duet” as a kind of harmony. A duet requires two people to play together and to complement one another. This can be the case with dancing and mourning: each experience can bounce off one another like tennis players hitting the ball back and forth. The players may be competing – the “mysterious duel” – but they can also enjoy the game and bring the best out of each other. The spiritual dynamism that mysteriously brings together suffering and joy encourages an affective life full of depth and meaning, and surely that is good.