Life is hard. It is. It’s hard. And it’s lovely. Both. One of my favorite bloggers (Glennon Melton at Momastery) says that life is brutiful. Brutal and beautiful at the same time. I agree. But here is the secret: you can’t know one without the other. When I was young I was somewhat obsessed with quotes. Especially the inspirational kind. I would type them up (yes TYPE on a typewriter) and cut them out into little strips of paper and put them on my wall. One of those quotes was “you can’t enjoy the sunshine without the rain.” I have no idea who first said it or if we even know. It seemed to strike a chord with me. I didn’t know that I would one day learn (as perhaps we all do) how true that saying is. You can’t know happiness unless you know sadness. You can’t know peace if you haven’t experienced turmoil. Our understanding of emotion is based on how we interpret our lives. Sometimes things have to be difficult. Sometimes things have to hurt a little. It is only then that we have a comparison for the good things. That’s how life goes.
I have several friends struggling lately. I worry for them. One of the common themes I find in all people who are going through a hard time is the “I just can’t wait until this part is over” thinking. I do it too. Maybe it helps us get through that part of life. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism – it makes us think about how things will be different, better, later on. It gives us a point to focus on and push toward. It’s like running long distance and finally seeing the finish line. I think. I don’t run, but if I did I can totally imagine me seeing that finish line and it giving me a little extra nudge to get there. If that’s how it helps us, I don’t think it’s a bad thing.
I have always been a “runner”. Not the racing kind, but the “I can’t get out of here fast enough” kind. It’s like my default way of dealing with stuff. I would run away from problems. Either by moving or by quitting or by using a variety of “chemicals” to help me forget. Sometimes I just used sleep and tv. Sometimes food. In the past few years I have experienced some things I can’t run away from. Things that you have to face head on or be broken by them. I believe those lessons have made me a better person. I want to share some of what I have learned. Maybe one day it will help someone. Maybe one of my struggling friends will find comfort from it.
1. Pain is inevitable.
Pain is part of life and you can not escape it all. No one can. When I was younger, trying to find myself, I took some meditation classes from a Buddhist center where I lived. It was a lovely place filled with lovely people. They gave meditation classes to the public every Sunday night. I enjoyed what I learned there. We had lovely lessons and even lovelier guided group meditations. One of the things that struck me was a set of phrases they used. They told us that if you feel pain while doing your meditation (say your back hurts from sitting too long, or your leg falls asleep, or your foot itches), don’t move, don’t try to wiggle it out. They said that life is full of pain. Trying to run away from it or change it does not help you. Instead they told us that if we experienced pain during our meditation the best thing to do was to accept it, breathe into it, acknowledge it and just be in the moment. That the pain would pass. Pain can be physical, emotional, and mental in the way I am using it here, and trust me, they all hurt. I believe this ties into the “you can’t experience the sunshine without the rain” thought process. If you don’t allow yourself to experience the bad, how will you know the good? I actually used the “breathe into it, acknowledge it” part a lot in years to come when I had painful surgeries, when my son was born, or when my chronic pain tortured me. But let’s analyse this in a real life situation, because let’s be honest, most pain doesn’t come when you are sitting in the Lotus position and breathing deeply with a calm mind. Let me use an example. When my mom was sick it was very painful for me. (for her more, but we are selfish beings) I worried about it. I stressed over it. I felt unable to help, and unable to fix things and unable to even be there the way she needed. Those are very difficult emotions for me. They caused a lot of emotional pain for me. I always fix stuff. But I couldn’t’ fix this. When I would quiet my mind and meditate and breathe into the pain, it helped me calm myself back down and find a more centered spot. It didn’t last long, but it did help me center myself again for a while. When my mom died it had been a really hard 6 months for our family. I can tell you almost all of the moments during a 5-6 day period of time with my family during the time of her death and funeral. I can remember all of the love, all of the pain, all of the breathing, all of the faces, all of the kindnesses. Because there was nothing I could do but sit, breathe, acknowledge the pain. Roll around in it. Wrap myself up in it. When time slows down like this, you know – you know you are in a life changing moment, and I am thankful I was able to accept it in this way. That’s not to say I didn’t have pain anymore. Or I still don’t. But I did my best to treat it like a part of life. A moment to learn from. When my Grandfather died I was not in a good place. I was using alcohol and drugs to calm my mind. I was hiding out from my family – not keeping in contact. I was losing jobs left and right. I was living in a dirty apartment. I was unable to process my feelings about his death at the time. Because I ran. I am happy I was able to learn that lesson later. Not all people meditate (though I recommend it to everyone because it’s awesome), but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from the hard parts of life. Attempting to push the lessons you may be needing to learn away, trying to stop things from happening, trying to shelter yourself or others, does not help anyone. It causes more pain because your stress builds up. Your worry intensifies. You do not learn the lessons you are meant to learn. You do not progress.
It is the same way with our children. We want to protect them, stop the bad things from happening, keep them from being hurt. Some of these things are wise and good – like keeping your child from playing in dangerous chemicals, or keeping your baby from putting things in the electrical socket. But some things need to be experienced by our children – it’s how they learn. When my son was a baby I read that the way a baby learns to stand and walk is by falling down. Falling down and standing back up develop muscles babies need to be able to stand longer and one day walk. Falling down also helps them learn how they are oriented in space, cause and effect, how to control their bodies, and many more things. If we keep our toddlers from falling down, we rob them of the chance to learn. If you have read very many of my other blog posts, you know that my son struggles from time to time in different ways. One thing he struggles with is social aspects of life. He is loud, persistent, expectant, demanding. He knows what he wants and he WILL get it. Sometimes other kids don’t like these qualities – they call him bossy or mean or tell him to leave them alone. When this first started happening my instinct was to run to help. I was the mama bear just wanting to keep him from getting his feelings hurt, and to protect other kids too. Because he would throw big fits, I got into the habit of kind of hovering. I would always go with the kids so I could intervene at any moment. I would try to protect him from other kids AND himself. It wasn’t until he stopped the fit throwing most of the time that he started to really learn what other people expected of him socially. I realized that was because I was finally stepping back and letting him learn it on his own. I was finally giving him space to get hurt a little, or mess up a little, or even lose a friend so he could learn how to act in a socially acceptable way. I was protecting him too much. You can explain to a person HOW to ride a bike all you want. Until they actually do it for themselves they can not learn it. Now, sometimes he still needs social cues, and I try to give them if I am there and able to hear what is going on. But I also let him work things out on his own. If he asks what to do, or gets upset, I will give him advice or hints. But I let him fall down sometimes so he can learn. There is a time for everything, including being in pain. There is a time to sit and breathe in the moment and just accept the pain and let it roll around you. Robbing my child of his chance to have those moments didn’t do him any services. Like a toddler who’s parents don’t allow them to stand up on their own some, he would never learn to walk if I didn’t allow him to get hurt some.
2. This moment will never happen again.
This lesson brought to you by the words Cancer, Parenthood, Alzheimer’s, Death, and Love. Actually this lesson was brought to ME by those words. Life is fleeting. It really is. When you are 5 years old, each moment can last all day. When you are 35 you turn around and your son is in Preschool and you don’t know how it happened so fast. You can never get this moment back. And thank goodness for that for some of them, right? Like the ones where you are elbow deep in child poo and can’t reach the wipes that fell on the floor. Or when you son comes up to you with his hands full of something smelly and brown and says “Mom, I think there is poo on the playground.” (thanks to a friend for this example) Or when you are at the store and your son throws a fit because he wants something and you end up having to haul him out of the store kicking and screaming while everyone watches you and (in your mind) judges you as a bad mom. (hm, that’s a lot more potty talk than I am usually prone to. sorry for those mental images) Thank goodness some of THESE moments are fleeting. But some, some you do need to absorb. To slow down and look around you and make a mental photograph. To remember the exact way his smile turns up. To remember the laughter at your silly faces. To remember your husband and son holding each other, trusting each other, loving each other. To remember your mom walking with your son, holding hands, telling him the names of flowers, pointing to beautiful things for him to see. Things you did not see yourself. If you are constantly in a rush, how do you absorb and remember these? If you can’t slow down and stop pushing forward, stop forging the way, how do you remember the lovely lovely moments in life? How do you let them into your heart? When I was at my sickest from cancer – when I was at my mom and dad’s house with my baby – my husband 500 miles away – trying to prepare for another surgery – when I couldn’t lift my son – I sat and looked at him. I watched him. I touched his hand, stroked his toes, kissed his head. I handed him the soft ball he liked to hold, or held a toy up for him to reach for. I tried to absorb all of the moments I could. I had nothing to do but sit. Sit and rest and let my body be strong again. And so I did. I sat and I paid attention to those things in my life I needed to remember. When they wheeled my down to surgery, doped up on Versed, all 4 times, I had one beautiful thought in my head. I remember consciously choosing to drift off into never-land with the image of my son yawning in my head. The first time was spontaneous, but it calmed me so much I made it the routine. From the beginning he did the funniest cute little pucker of his lips at the beginning of his yawn. I loved it with all my heart – that moment of pucker, that second of adorableness – and I clung to that image. I let that image be my life raft, bringing me back to him when the surgery was over. I couldn’t help but think that this is what it must feel like when we die. Flashes of the most precious things in our life. A look, a touch, a kiss on a forehead, a pucker. Slow down. Slow down and see these moments. When you are bent over a pile of paperwork, or trying to get the dishes done so you can help with homework and get the kids in the bath, or counting the minutes until bedtime…. stop. Listen for a second. Look around for a second. Capture a moment instead of pushing them away.
3. No one can live like this all the time.
When I was at my sickest, as I mentioned in #2, I was at my Mom’s house. She watched Grey’s Anatomy every week at that time. I was off my thyroid meds and couldn’t follow 5 minutes of anything, so I just sat and watched with her. One of the episodes had a scene – and this scene is branded onto my mind – involving “enjoying every single moment.” One of the women characters (Izzy maybe) had had a near death experience of some sort, and had been going around all week telling everyone to enjoy every moment, pointing out the beauty in every single thing. Telling people to just be thankful they were alive and stop bickering, thrusting her amazement at the beauty of the world onto everyone else. One of the other women characters (Meredith perhaps) told her to knock it off. She said she was glad that her friend had this experience, and that it helped her see the beauty in every moment, but that most people just can’t live like that all the time. Most people are just trying to get through the moment. ** That hit me as well. It was true. While I was sitting, getting stronger, absorbing every minute I was able to stay awake, my family was bustling around me. Arranging child care help, feeding us, cleaning up after us, helping me with showers, getting up in the night with my baby. I doubt they were able to absorb much of anything, honestly. And I realized that sometimes it isn’t the “season” for absorbing and loving and seeing the beauty. Sometimes it the season for pushing ahead, getting up and going forward a few more steps, pushing yourself to keep going. Like a child learning to ride a bike, if you fall down and just sit there and wallow in the hurt and think about how scary it felt to fall, you will never get on again. If you don’t pick yourself up and try again, you won’t learn to ride. Sometimes it’s the season of getting up and trying again.
4. Life is easier with those you love.
Find strength in those whom you love. In those who love you. Find happiness and peace and a place to be safe in your friends and family (whatever your definition of family is). Give to them as they give to you and everyone’s load will be lighter. I could go on all day about this one. Just know that in every hard moment, and in every good one, the people you love will make it better. And remember not to only call them when life is hard. Definitely call when life is hard, but also when life is normal or happy. Share all the times, not just the bad ones. My husband’s family is better at this than I am. They make time to get together, they drop by each other’s houses for coffee and tea. They see each other all the time. I have been trying to work on this more – getting together with people who make me happy, and children who make my son happy. We all need that in life.
I know that none of this is easy. Again, life isn’t easy. It’s messy and it hurts and it brings you to your knees sometimes. But it’s also beautiful and full of love and beauty as well. Life is brutiful. Live it accordingly.
** You’ll forgive my lack of knowledge about this episode of Grey’s Anatomy, I hope. I never was a devoted follower and I was so sick I didn’t know what was going on around me. In a thyroidless induced walking coma. If any devoted fans know this episode I would love to watch it again. It may or may not have been around the time of the “red mist” episode in which there is a bomb in the hospital – I remember watching that episode in the weeks I was there as well.