When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you and grow. —from Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist
As a child, I hated bittersweet chocolate. It seemed like an insult to the very nature of chocolate, a tragedy in the storybook of sweets. As a kid I thought,“Adults have to be sad. They like acid-tasting coffee and smelly seafood and bitter chocolate. The worst.” My childhood palette craved Pixie Stix and blue raspberry slushies and Fun Dip — the “pure” sugar treats that just tasted like innocence. Bittersweet chocolate does not taste like innocence. It tastes like 5:30 AM wakeup times. It tastes like checkbooks and tax forms. It tastes like birthday money spent on a new umbrella. “Who wants that?” I asked.
Flash forward to my first ‘AHA!’ moment of adulthood that one day in the spring semester of my freshman year of college when I started my day with a 6:30 AM run, followed by a cup of coffee, and a trip to grocery store where I would voluntarily purchase my very own bar of chocolate that was 80% coaco. It was that day that I realized: I’ve become the person 10-year-old me thought I’d never become. I’d grown friendly to the bittersweet. I indulged the bittersweet.
And maybe I even liked it.
Bittersweet: The Word-of-the-Year
I have figured out that bittersweet is the word of the year. It’s my senior year of college. This summer, I thought I may try to just avoid the bittersweetness of this season of change. I’d be graduating and that was a great accomplishment, and I’d just need to live this year like it was any other year and press on with my eyes on the diploma prize. Keep focused. Keep a clear mind. Don’t get bogged down by the conflicts of change. Put on those blinders and protect yourself.
But then I got to my campus. But then I sat down with old friends. But then I made new friends. But then I bought a book. Can you guess the title of it was?Bittersweet. (By Shauna Niequist)
I bought it because I had a gift card and because I love Shauna’s writing — reading her is like having a conversation with an old friend or a fun aunt. I bought it thinking — and I directly am quoting the thought that came into my head — “I can save this for a harder time in life when a lot of things are terrible!” Oh, silly me.
I cracked open Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist at a meal a few weeks in to my senior year because I was alone and I needed a dinner companion. I didn’t know my dinner companion would suggest I alter my plan for senior year to keep my blinders on in a foolish, feeble tempt at self-preservation. Again, I had one of those ‘AHA!’ moments, like the one I had my freshman year when I realized my tastebuds were becoming adults.
Here’s what it said:
Bittersweet is the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands. Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy, audacious, earthy.
Reading the first pages of Bittersweet made me realize that running away from the reality of this season of change via senior year of college— of yes, beginnings, but also endings — without acknowledging its beautiful and downright ugly moments would not help anyone or anything. I realized I that the moment I was waiting for to justify reading this book about change and hard times was actually here. It wasn’t a crisis, and that was fine. Right now, and every day, there are changes, hard times, and crossroads I’ve never come to before. I can’t deny it any longer. I’m not going to let myself be so afraid of it any longer. I’ve got 7 months left of this season of life that is college, and I’m ready take on the sweet and the beautiful, but also the courageous, the gutsy, the earthy.
This — right here, right now — is all that’s left of this season.
No repeats. Change is here.
Bittersweet | No Repeats
It’s a bitter thing to realize my time is essentially up and there’s no repeats of college. Today is the last time I’ll go to the cafeteria on October 21 and eat a sandwich with my friends. No repeats.
There’s so many things I wish I could do again, I wish I could repeat. I wish I could repeat that one class and shake off my attitude and not be resistant to the good-will advice of my professor. I wish I could repeat my sophomore year and slow down more and listen more and love the people more that I’ll part ways with come May. It’s a bitter thing to look back and have no repeats.
But it’s also an incredibly sweet, beautiful, and amazing thing to realize there’s no repeats of college. Today is more special because there will never be another day like this again. That sandwich seems more extraordinary, and the conversation around the table more important and more special and more of a gift. No repeats.
There’s so many things I’m so glad I never have to do again. I never have to take that terrible class again, I never have to experience the confusion of freshman year again, I never have to wonder if I can pass college classes again. I never have to wonder if I’ll make good friends.
No repeats is bittersweet.
Bittersweet | Change
Change is a bitter enemy; it startles us out of our comfortable place and into a world that seems cold and unforgiving. Change roars its head as people ask me what my plans are for next year, and I roar my head back when can’t tell them because I don’t know. Changes bugs and nags you and makes you question if you did enough or if you should have done more. Changes knashes its teeth when I realize that there’s no perfect place for me to go, and dissatisfaciton will follow me around for the rest of my days because that’s the nature of this temporal world.
But change is sweet. Shauna says it better than I could:
I’ve learned the hard way that change is one of God’s greatest gifts, and most useful tools. Change can push us, pull us, rebuke and remake us. It can show us who we’ve become, in the worst ways, and also in the best ways. I’ve learned that it’s not something to run away from, as though we could, and that in many cases, change is a function of God’s graciousness, not life’s cruelty.
As Shauna says later in her book, this is a season of becoming. Change is life-giving. The change of senior year is making me appreciate the richness that comes from witnessing when trials collide with celebrations in a vibrant, dynamic, confusing, complicated, and enlightening ‘AHA!’-moment.
Change is bittersweet.
Bittersweet is Sweet
One of the most unexpected blessings of this bittersweet season of change is seeing other people experience the sweet. I told some friends that I almost feel like a proud mom most days.
I look at my sophomore friends and I see them coming in to their own, and I’m so proud even though I haven’t really done anything to get them there. I see them pursuing what they love, going after that leadership position, and making choices to become a better person. I see them inviting friends to meals and on adventures and making bonds they don’t even realize yet strengthen and encourage them through some bitter days that most likely lie ahead. I see my junior friends going on dates with people they really like and my senior friends getting engaged and planning their lives and their futures. It’s amazing. People I didn’t even know 3 years ago I will stand beside as they experience one of life’s most holy moments and pledge their lives to their spouse for the rest of their lives.
But it’s bittersweet to watch the sweet happen to others. I can’t repeat, but I wish we could go back and relive the moments where life wasn’t quite as complicated as it’s becoming. I can’t stop change, but wish I could stay around and live these good days along side my younger friends. But that’s not what’s going to happen. And that’s okay.
Before now, I wasn’t sure if I was ready for all the bittersweet moments that come in seasons of change like the one I’m in. But funnily enough, I was wrong. This season more than any other time of life is helping me appreciate both the hard and the wonderful experiences of college I’ve had and am having so much more than I used to. I’m finding sweetness where bitterness could fester, but by the grace of God it isn’t.
There are moments where I feel like I could break, and maybe I will. But that’s okay too. Why?
When things fall apart, the broken pieces allow all sorts of things to enter, and one of them is the presence of God.
So bring it on, senior year. This bittersweet season is already full of its ups and downs, but I’ve never felt more like myself and more like a human being than this year.
I’m ready for the next AHA! moment.