~ Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.
First, I want to thank the many kind people who have inquired about my well-being since last month’s column. Here’s the update: I’ve tried everything from shaman to MRI and I’m still in pain, the cause of which remains a mystery; but I did discover that I have three disintegrating joints in my neck, so at least I got something for my trouble.
There’s nothing quite like pain and physical deterioration to highlight the reality of aging and the necessity of humility in the face of it. I recently read an essay that began: “I was 35 for 15 years, then one day, I was 50.” I get this. I am this.
It is the arrogance of youth and good health that believes there is always time. You can try on a career or relationship for size thinking that you can change it at will. You can imagine, with some certitude, that there is a future in which everything will be just as possible as it is right now. And then a little thing trips you up–a fall from a bike or an odd lump somewhere–and suddenly you are shot into a whole new perspective.
In fact, the trouble with the first half of life is that it is impossible to imagine the second half. If we could, we’d use our time better. We wouldn’t stay in the halfhearted relationship. We wouldn’t be so cavalier about how we spend our irretrievable days or how we treat our fragile bodies. There comes a point when you realize that if you haven’t lived the life you wanted to live, you’re probably not going to. Carpe Diem. That’s the message here. Seize the Day.
It’s dawning on me – and I am grappling with this – that recovery is not always possible. Things don’t necessarily get better. Sometimes there isn’t a happy outcome. Sometimes it’s about grief and acceptance and humility in the face of what is but what you prefer were not.
No one wants to deal with the reality of loss and limitation but, ironically, limitations are what free us to become our fullest selves. Like the pruning of a fruit tree, limitations focus our energy and direct our growth so that we might be truly fruitful. And loss helps us to see what is truly meaningful and what is peripheral. The brevity and difficulties of life are what compel us to really live each day. Or they should.
Part of being human is living within the limitations of an earthly incarnation, a condition that includes loss of all kinds, a condition that is itself terminal. It’s said that life is brutish and short, and it is. It’s also an amazing, sensual extravaganza. It’s all of it. It’s not a salad bar where you get to choose only what you like: it’s more like a prix fixe dinner where you get what you get. Our power lies not in what we’re served, but what we do with it. The silver lining to life’s woes is sometimes nothing more and nothing less than compassion.
Accommodating to life’s slings and arrows requires that you grieve your losses, whatever they may be. Acceptance comes if and when you wrestle with the truth–all of it. Then, when you’re finished with your sorrow and your anger and your fear–or better said, they are finished with you–you can take a big breath and say, “Okay. Now what?” Maybe you have to do this over and over. Maybe this process never ends, and that’s okay too. Let the emotional tides wash in and out; it’s cleansing. Grief is cleansing. There’s no medal for being stoic, nor is there one for victimhood. Be real and feel, that’s my motto. Drink some wine with a friend and cry until you laugh. Or you can allow me to save you the hundred grand that I’ve spent on therapy over the decades and distill what I’ve learned to these two maxims:
- Everything is meaningful.
- That’s life.