Month: October 2010

What to Think When Bad Things Happen

What to Think When Bad Things Happen

I have to admit that I love the irreverent phrase “sh*! happens” because too often in life there is just no explanation for the obstacles we face.

The first time I heard the expression I laughed,  a bit uncomfortably no doubt. I don’t even remember the context. Like all comedy there is an element of down and dirty truth behind the levity. It looks at life’s most painful or embarrassing experiences in the light of cold hard truth and the juxtaposition strikes us as humorous. It also informs us and requires that we look beyond the surface of an experience to what lies beneath.  The powerful is often not in what is said, but what is left unsaid.

Many of us were raised to believe that if we just do the right thing, life will all work out and our dreams will come true. By the time we reach our forties, fifties or sixties we have come or are coming to the realization that no matter how hard we try, things don’t always work out the way we expected or planned. In spite of our best efforts, our marriages fall apart; our children are less than the perfection we had imagined when we gave birth to them;  unexpected health issues assail us, our careers fizzle before they get off the ground, and an array of setbacks of all sizes have changed our view of our life and ourselves.

When life throws me a curve, reminding myself that *sh*! happens*, (and disregarding the irreverence of the expression),   improves my outlook, precisely because I hear the intended implication, that is: “Okay, so what are you going to do about it? Bad things happen. They just do, but you still have choices.”

When bad things happen, and they do and they will you have at least four options as as to how you can respond.

1. You can feel sorry for yourself and spend your time and effort crying and complaining about the horrible thing that happened and how unfair it is.

2. You can rage against fate and/or the person or thing that caused your setback or problem.

3. You can run away from reality and your responsibility to it by shopping, drinking, spending, or cavorting.

4. Or you can accept the setback as part of your reality and live through the difficulty to the best of your ability.

My husband and I were run off the road a month ago by a careless driver. As a result, I have temporarily lost the use of my right hand. I am a writer. I need my right hand! At first the fear of losing an essential part of myself terrified me. My husband responded differently. He was filled with rage at the driver. A friend of mine’s house was broken into and all of her valuables stolen, not to mention her sense of security. Her initial reaction was to run away, her husbands was to get out the shotgun and lay in wait for the intruders to return. In both situations our initial response was one of fight or flight.

However, after the normal period of time it takes our psyche to adjust to trauma, to continue on in this vein is futile and self-destructive.  At some point it is essential to just say “sh*! happens”, now what am I going to do to make the best of my life in spite of it. No doubt this is easier to do in some instances than others.

My view is not fatalistic or lacking in empathy and compassion. It is just reality. Pain and suffering is the nature of the less than perfect world in which we live. People make mistakes. We make mistakes. The sooner we accept this, the sooner we can turn our attention to the positive that remains in the here and now and put our energies into making the most of the time we have left.

The Road to Change

The Road to Change

The Road to Change

Change ~ it can be inviting, even magnetic, or it can be terrifying and overwhelming. It can be something we latch on to at every possible opportunity. We imagine that making a change will fix our problems or fill the emptiness we feel. Maybe a new job, a new city, a new house will make us happy.

Or, change can be the thing we resist the most in life as we hang on to what is known and sure, afraid of what it might bring or require of us. We are not sure we have what it takes so we chose to remain where we are, frozen by fear, suffocated by our need for external security, blanketed with excuses and reasons for staying the same.

At midlife, change is all around us. We find our nest is empty, our hopes and dreams altered, our bodies reflecting the years. We are suddenly not who we were and yet we don’t yet know who we are to become. We often react to all this change by flailing about or holding on tight,as the earth shifts beneath our feet. If we don’t begin to find our footing, the restlessness continues even after the external forces have subsided.

Life’s little and big disruptions are a great opportunity for very real change ~ the only kind of change that can take us where we really want to go ~ internal change. It requires hard work and courage, but it doesn’t always require picking up and moving or divorce.

For the last ten plus years I have been increasingly unhappy with where we live ~ both specifically and generally. I felt like a fish out of water ~ I never felt at “home”. I wanted to move, to make a life altering change ~ we talked about moving across the country. In the back of my mind I knew that this was not always the answer as that was my modus operandi when I was young and trust me, the grass is not always greener. Reality being what it is we couldn’t make it happen. Still I was restless and frustrated by my inability to do something about something so seemingly important as my surroundings and the environment in which I lived. I still longed to feel “at home”.

It took our recent trip to my old home town and a serious car accident on the way home to change my perspective. Sometimes life does something for us to push us into change and sometimes it happens more gradually, but the point is the same.  Change happens on the inside.

A terrifying experience in a strange city changed me in numerous ways. Most striking has been that for the first time in twenty years I was happy to come home to the quiet, lazy, slow-moving south. I am content ~ inside ~ to be here now. Almost relieved. I look around me and I see what is good, not what is bad. Nothing has changed ~ except my perspective.

When things are out of kilter and you are struggling with how to change your life to make things right, consider working from the inside out. Change yourself, your perspective, your attitude, your thought patterns and you might just change your world.

Finding Courage in Adversity

Finding Courage in Adversity

I think of my father more often these days. At sixty six, like his father before him, he had a stroke and lost the use of the right side of his body. I admired him at the time for the determination and perseverance he displayed in his recovery efforts, but as a young adult I couldn’t possibly comprehend what he was really going through. I was caught up in my own sorrow at losing the indestructible Dad that I knew and focused on my own life.

Now, as my body and mind heals from the accident and I get a little stronger each day, I have begun to pick up my daily routine.  Hampered by the inability to use my right hand I am often exhausted by the time I complete an ordinary task I used to do so easily such as showering, dressing or fixing lunch. The better I feel, the more I want to do, and consequently the more frustrated I become. I want to rip the whole experience out of my life and go back to the way things were. And then, I think of my Dad.

House Designed & Built by Ed Hoffman Harborcreek, PA circa 1934-1935

As hard as it was for both he and my mother, together they managed to pick up the pieces of their life and keep going. Day by day, week by week, month by month they soldiered on. I never heard my Dad complain. Not once. I knew he’d break down in tears once in a while behind closed doors and was generally more emotional as a result of the stroke. Occasionally when he struggled to do something with his hands that he used to do so easily I’d hear him mutter “damn” when things went awry, as they often did. But he never gave up. He’d just keep at it until the task was done.

He was a doer before and after. At twenty-three, right out of college and during the depression when he struggled to find work, he designed and built, with his own two hands, the house he and my mother and their subsequent five children lived in for twenty years. The house still stands and looks better than ever. After the stroke he continued, in time, to garden, build, and create in any way he could.

Even at eighty-nine he was still trying to improve his condition. The day he died he decided to take the brace off his leg because exercises he was doing was making him stronger and he had read that wearing a brace too much can actually weaken the muscles. He tripped, fell and broke his leg and died post-op. Sadly, he saw the mishap as a failure and not the true success that it was.

So, when I start to feel frustrated and sorry for myself as I begin the challenges of rehab, I think of my Dad and I feel gratitude ~ not for what I’ve lost, but for all that I still have.

Sisterhood ~ A Woman’s Strength

Sisterhood ~ A Woman’s Strength

In the last couple of days a comforting image has come to mind on more than one occasion. The car accident my husband and I were in ten days ago shook us to the core. Though we weren’t seriously injured, rolling over four times did a little more than addle our brains.  We are recovering slowly and steadily and that is all that matters.

Loud noises make us jump, little annoyances seem big ~ we describe ourselves as “twitchy”. But we go through each day doing our respective jobs, taking care of the bureaucratic rat’s nest that has ensued, one phone call at a time, visiting doctors, etc. We do alright, all things considered.

Lying in bed at night, when the immediate demands have ceased, images come back to haunt me.  The sequence of events plays out in my mind, various chapters, days and moments rehearse themselves trying to find a place to settle in my memory.  It is not pleasant but I like to believe it is a necessary part of the healing process. In the midst of the chaotic images tumbling around in my psyche, a disparate, completely unexpected one eased its way into the mix.

In this new image, I am encircled by all of the warm, wise women I have come to know over the years. Their arms reach out to hold me up, their affectionate smiles and soft words allow me to feel safe and relax, knowing I am cared for, loved and protected.  The image reminds me in feel and tone of something Laurel Birch might have depicted ~ in softer, more muted tones. I am not an artist, but I would like to take a stab at creating a pictorial image of what I see in my mind’s eye, because it feels like a universal image of love, motherhood, sisterhood, perhaps even God.

Womanhood, in its purest essence, in its most perfect earthly example of nurturing wisdom, is a powerful force ~  one that seems sorely missing in the external world and yet profoundly present in the spiritual realm. I intend to hang on to this image as I heal and throughout the rest of my life. I encourage you to begin to assemble your own personal collection of loving, kind, compassionate sisters, so that in your hour of need you can breathe in their strength until you can once again find your own and return the favor.

Though I May Never Know Your Name

Though I May Never Know Your Name

Home at Last

My psyche, or perhaps more accurately my spirit is bereft and cluttered with the shattered glass and twisted metal that now lies far behind us in a desolate junk yard… small bits embedded in my skin a constant reminder. The sun now spreads glorious warmth across my shoulders as I sit on my back deck drawing strength from nature’s pure abundance. The raging heat of summer finally past, two days of rain cleansed the earth and it is ready, even eager to reveal its generosity.

I am in one piece, as is my beloved…I was so frightened…sitting beside him in our metal cocoon watching the blood run down his face wondering how deep the lacerations, how severe the damage, praying that I would not lose him. I cared little about myself.  He spoke calming words to me, seeing the panic rise in my face, typically indifferent to his own condition – it did not matter to him – only my well-being mattered. We were a perfect match reaching out ~ touching the face of the other ~ locking eyes searching for understanding and strength.

The panic rose in my throat, as the spinning, tumbling dream registered as reality and I caught a glimpse of my hand – bleeding and mangled – I could bear anything but I could not bear the loss of my ability to form words on a page – to return to the painful solitude of being locked inside myself once again unable to speak my truth. That would be far worse than death.

The tightness in my chest intensified as the Frenchman tore away a bit of the plastic shade that fell quickly to protect us.  He spoke to me in words I didn’t recognize but I understood his intent.  He was there to help until the EMTs arrived. I did not consider at the time the risk he was taking to climb into our mangled tomb as we waited, a helpless target in the middle of a highway saturated with speeding vehicles of all sizes and shapes…in the blinding rain.

Thank you Frenchman ~ I will probably never know your name but I will remember the sound of your voice as you bandaged my hand and then crawled in the back seat behind me so you could place your arms around my shoulders and comfort me as the panic rose steadily. I lost touch with you when I lost consciousness.

Scott and I are so grateful for all the wonderful people who have reached out to us throughout this difficult period. We are truly blessed.  My words on a page are the only way I know to heal the inner turmoil that remains as my body does its part to heal. So I will probably continue to write, to tell the story as I am able. It’s a slow process, the typing with one hand, but it slows my thinking both calming me and affording me the time to choose my words carefully. Thank you for listening.