I recently turned 39 and I just now had an important revelation.
I always thought that life was free and easy, sunny, and full of laughter, and that hard, bad things might pop up into your life for a minute, but you recover from them quickly, and then you go back to your easy, free, sunny, and full-of-laughter life. I actually thought that.
Until my dad died when I was 29 years old, nothing hard had ever happened to me. I have no bad childhood memories. Okay, some girls were really mean to me in middle school, and okay, when I was six, I got a splinter under my fingernail which really hurt, and when I was eleven, I broke my arm, but I kind of liked the attention. That is it. Besides the fact that my dad and I were extremely close and he was a total gem of a man, I think the reason his death rocked me so hard is that my whole foundation of the world was shaken. Bad things can happen. And I'm embarrassed to admit it, but until then, I actually thought there was an impenetrable shield around me.
I credit and blame my parents for providing me with such a lovely and happy childhood that it never occurred to me that life could be any other way. I literally never heard my parents argue. I saw them kiss good morning every morning, hold hands, laugh, eat every meal together, and even up to the very end, travel together. My mom will be the first to remind me it wasn't always that lovely, but she will also be the first to add that it actually usually was that lovely. The point is that from my protected place in the world, things looked really good. We ate all of our meals together, we camped in the summers, skied in the winters, not to mention we didn't live in a war zone or face hunger or illness. We had a peaceful life in the suburbs, classical music, rooms lined with books, well-balanced meals, and heaps of love.
I remember vividly a 9th grade Health class in which we were studying emotional health, and the teacher offered that when she found the need to cry, and she made it clear this was pretty often, she would take a shower so that she could cry in private. And I sat there and thought: "Why in God's name would anyone ever need to cry? On a regular basis? For no real reason?"
My Pollyanna attitude could very well just be the byproduct of a healthy childhood and some basic innocence and naivete about life. But my feelings about this happy, care-free world carried well into college and into adulthood, and actually helped to foster some of my problems. Everything has to be happy!
A few weeks ago, I had a series of hard interactions with someone that made me feel pretty beat up. Within a few hours, I also received emails or texts from dear friends dealing with really hard situations: relationships ending, relationships barely hanging on, a child with a new scary diagnosis, a child with depression, a car stolen right out of a driveway, and not to mention my multiple family members fighting cancer. I had a moment. I was sitting in my car when I realized...
So, this is what it's going to be like all the time, huh?
Not that life is all the bad stuff. To the contrary, there are so many wonderful things, now and always. But the hard things are not intermittent storms that rise up over the plains and then swiftly disappear. Instead, there is a constant stream, a complicated pattern of winds that we need to learn to negotiate. And each new rough patch shapes us and stretches us and leaves us understanding ourselves so much better. And it makes us better friends and listeners and life-appreciators. We all know how much brighter and more vibrant the sunset is after a storm.
I have struggled these past two years because of some honest-to-goodness hard times and hard decisions and all of the fall-out that came with them; But I have also struggled because I'm acclimating to a more complicated world that I now understand and accept. I have built and will continue to build a wealth of resources to rely on for hard stuff, stuff that I now understand isn't just going to end. I will always worry about my kids. There will always be sickness or the possibility of it. Happiness isn't something that is created for me, it's something I have to fight for and hang on to and fiercely protect.
What I have found and created with Tim is way more than I even dared to hope for, and the fact that our paths crossed when they did still totally baffles me. (And the universe said "Cue the kind, smart, handsome sportscaster"). Falling in love gives you that rush of newness and joy, and the whole world becomes colored with all of the amazing things you are going to do together. And, it also makes you feel really vulnerable. I look at Tim and think: Good God, you are so incredible and wonderful and don't you dare get sick and please buckle your seat belt and don't do anything stupid like cross the street without looking! Perhaps more than ever in my life, I understand that something so good and rare should be cherished, and that I have to take the most special care of it, and protect it, and always breath life into it, and still take care of MYSELF within this new life.
A few weeks ago Suzanne sat down with me and wrote me a list of affirmations to read to myself when needed. Suzanne knows my story better than probably anyone, and I get so much confidence from having her confidence in this new life I've created.
(You should all have a list of affirmations, and you should all have a Suzanne):
Meditation, hard exercise, relying on family and friends, reading insightful things by smart people, writing and talking: these are not just things to help us cope with adversity, instead, they are things we need to do to live a full life. I am no longer muscling from one obstacle to the next. It's both freeing and humbling to understand that whatever comes will come, and I will stand strong with my ever-deepening roots and do the best I can do to weather the storms.
Just like yours, my life is wonderful and tender, great and hard, all at the same time. People heal and cancer treatments work, sometimes. Relationships recover, or they needed to end in the first place. New relationships are born. People come into your life when you need them to. I worry about my kids, about the effects of divorce, about whether or not I can harbor them in that rosy and safe world. But they show me all the time, just by being so truly themselves, and by being so loving and confident, that they are okay. Way better than okay.
I'm grateful for all the years behind me and all the time ahead of me. I am at a beautiful vantage point to see ahead, to all the sides. I truly understand a few key things now that I wish I understood always:
Trust your gut. Trust in yourself. You can't control the world around you. You get to be happy, but it isn't handed to you, and it isn't la-la-la kind of happy, it's a deeper, earned, stronger self-love happy. When you create it for yourself, then it feels more real, and it's more yours.