My son and I had a “your life isn’t so bad if you really look around” conversation this morning. It may have been the first one we have had. I purposely avoid comparing our lives to other people’s lives for several reasons. One is because everyone has pain and your pain and my pain may be different, or even seem less severe, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that I am in pain. Another is because he is 7 and let’s face it, 7 year olds don’t have the brain development necessary to really understand that across the world somewhere is another boy just like him who’s life sucks – bad – and we can’t even really do anything about it from here. Not directly anyway. However, this week has been challenging for both of us. The last few weeks really. This morning we were talking about getting his hair cut for his uncle’s wedding and school photos. He was upset because cutting his hair makes him “so itchy”. Now, I know that haircuts are challenging for my son. Lots of kids with sensory issues have a hard time with haircuts. He hates the razor, it doesn’t feel ticklish or funny, it feels like it hurts. He doesn’t like the scissors either – he feels like he is getting poked or pulled or hurt in other ways. He feels attacked. And a few times the stylist has told him they weren’t hurting him, and then nicked his ear or neck. It’s better than it used to be. We used to have to hold him down and only got haircuts every 6 months or so. But. We weren’t going to the stylist today. He didn’t need to freak out about it today, before school. So I told him to stop. I said that being itchy after a haircut isn’t the worst thing in the world. There are lots of worse things and he needed to chillax. He asked what the worse things were and I said “kids who are hungry because they don’t have enough food.” He said “or kids who are orphans.” I said “or kids who don’t have a home and have to sleep on the cold hard ground who are orphans.” It actually helped. He was then thinking about other kids who’s lives were harder instead of worrying about being itchy. And then my fussiness about people being in my way in the kitchen as I prepare his lunch for school also seemed pretty petty. Sometimes a little perspective is a good thing.
We collect tragedies and traumas, don’t we?
String them together like shiny, sharp beads on a cord to wear around our necks.
They glint and reflect the sunshine – showing themselves to all who see us.
This one is for the day I woke up long past time to get up for school and knew something was wrong because I had slept in – the day I woke up and found out my grandmother had died. My first real loss. This one is for the chest surgery I had 2,552 days ago – and all the rest of the surgeries and treatments and pain my cancer brought me. This one is for not being what my mother needed when she needed me most; even though she was always, always what I needed. This one is for the day I signed the papers for my son to enter special ed. This one is for one of the days I woke up not able to function in life, killing my pain with addictive substances and pushing out all the good people I knew. There are so many more. Some are bigger and sharper than others, but they are all there, shiny and sharp and making up my life.
I define myself, really, by these “bad events” in my life. I always have. If you ask me who I am, my mind goes to the days that hurt the most – because somewhere in my mind I think they shaped me the most. And they did shape me, both the tragedy and the relief and release and beauty that came from them all.
But, did they shape me the most?
What would happen if, instead of letting those beads define me, I made a necklace of good things that have happened in my life? What would happen if I let those sharp painful beads rest in my dresser drawer, underneath the socks and underwear for a while?
The new necklace would be full of bright colors and soft curves. Also shiny and also seen by all who know me.
This one is for the days I played in the park as a child, unafraid of the world – climbing trees and laying in the soft grass and hiding in a “clubhouse” of evergreen clusters with my friends and brothers. This one is for the horse riding at the cattle camp with my grandpa and uncles and cousins and dad. This one is for graduation with all my family there to see and all of my friends happy and smiling. This one is for the day I realized it wasn’t all horrible – that life is beautiful and kind and lovely as well. This one is for getting to know my brothers as adults and truly enjoying their company. This one is for the day my husband met his son, standing in the airport after a 15 hour plane ride, holding his 3 week old son and smiling. This one is for the first day I heard “Mama” and this one is for the snuggling and hair twirling and little kisses on my face. This one is for the day I signed papers for my son to enter special ed, but also realized that he is wonderful and beautiful no matter what – and that my job is just to help him, not to “fix” him. One for every family member and friend. Again, there are so many more, all different sizes and shapes. Also making up my life.
But that necklace, as beautiful as it is, doesn’t show my whole life either. It doesn’t shape me in the same way, it doesn’t let me learn from my mistakes and the pain and the sorrow. It doesn’t define me either.
So now, day to day, I am learning and trying to live in a way that allows me to have both. To put those beads side by side. The shiny sharp ones and the colorful curvy ones. I am learning to open my heart to it all, as painful as both the beauty and the sorrow can be.
We are not only our tragedy and trauma, and we are not only our hopeful and happy. We are messy and beautiful all at once.