“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”John Kabat-Zin
There was a time when I not only thought I could stop the waves, but was certain that I would be carried away by them were I unable to contain the tide. Life doesn't work that way. The truth, of course, is that we all have some spectacularly awful days, weeks, even months - and to try and pretend otherwise is folly, fundamentally dishonest and serves nobody.
The secret is not to prevent challenges. It's not to contain life in a narrow sphere of safety so as to cope with as few struggles as possible. The answer is to pull the rabbit out of the hat, and reframe the circumstance.
You will almost certainly go through illness, lose loved ones, have things go wrong at work, have arguments and days where you wished you’d stayed in bed. There’s nothing wrong with occasionally feeling down for a period of time. In fact, that’s a critical piece of living fully, and it’s perfectly good for other people to see that vulnerability. The problems occur when you allow that sense of loss to continue past the point of reason, and start thinking your baggage is worse than everybody else’s melancholy.
I read a blog post earlier in the week, penned by a woman who was talking about her experience after Lasik surgery, and the guilt she felt for having cured her poor vision when her diabetic son could not be cured of his disease. On the heels of this snippet, a medical journal crossed my desk detailing advances in the search for autism treatments. I wondered...
Would I cure my own diabetes were I able? Yes. But then, all these years, my husband and I have declined to seek any "cure" for our son's autism. We value those traits integral to his very self. We wouldn't want him any other way than the person he is right now, today. Would he feel the same? Would he wish life to be easier, and cure those "disordered" bits and pieces of himself?
Of course, it matters not. It's all hypothetical, anyway. But it got me thinking about the waves...
Much as I might wish to cure my diabetes, I wouldn't trade for a moment the experience of having this disease. It has made me healthier and more attentive to my physical self. It's made me stronger and more compassionate to those I encounter, struggling with illness of their own sort. Although I often wish I could not deal with the daily blood sugar battles - just as Henry probably laments at the occasional burden of autism - I have come to value the lessons and opportunities inherent in making this journey.
I can honestly say that when I look back on every single challenge I had, even the ones that knocked me off my feet, I realize they all played an extremely important role in my life. In the moment, of course, I really didn’t care about getting stronger or learning lessons. I knew only that things were not going the way I wanted them to go on that particular day, in that precise moment. Only later would I understand that everything - every experience - is useful in the right context.
Difficulties don't have to be a source of paralysis. At the time, what seems like an unwelcome intrusion in life can, in fact, serve as an opportunity to discover the self, our individual potential, and those things which matter most.