I was talking to a former colleague today who is going through a rough patch in his life following the death of a parent. I've had a bit of experience with hard times myself. We all have to some degree or another. It's unavoidable. There's no use comparing with what other people go through either. Just because some people have it worse does nothing to ease our own suffering.
My friend also told me of a former student of ours who recently drowned in Mexico while on a cruise. He was as bright, mature and nice a young man as you'd ever want to meet and is gone before seeing his 25th birthday.
I've had about a dozen former students who died of gunshot wounds. In some cases it was no surprise. Other times it was evidence that life can be grossly unfair. I've had former students matriculate at all eight Ivy League schools and many of the leading public universities in the country. Some have gone on to be doctors, professors and film stars. One is on death row for a double homicide. So it goes.
Anyway I started talking about rough patches that we stumble through in life. I was going through my worst when I was rescued by a 12 step program. Other people are "saved" by religion. Still others benefit from counseling, or medication or even just meeting the right person or changing careers. Sometimes bad times just pass and we experience enlightenment in their wake.
Pain and suffering are not to be ignored. They are what builds our character and inner fortitude. Our ability to persevere sets an example for others. Through coming out of the tunnel we find light and happier days. Better days. But neither should we dwell upon our misfortune and use it as an excuse for inaction or anger. How easy it is to surrender to ill feelings and wrap ourselves in a cloak of despair. Just as one can drown in their own resentments and regrets. Life is constantly teaching us. Although it can often be akin to taking the test before receiving the lesson.
We owe to ourselves and those that love us a commitment to seeing out whatever demons plague us and meanwhile remaining a part of our family and community.
Grabbing a firm hold of hope is a critical step. As is letting go of those things that are out of are control. Raging impotently at forces beyond our grasp is a fool's errand and a sure way to misery.
It's always worth remembering the many gifts we should be thankful for. Being a living, breathing member of the human race is a gift all in itself. I know I've learned to appreciate my ability to participate in this wild and mysterious dance of life. Sure it brings occasional heartache, but it should always be recognized as a thrill to be a part of the human race. How the angels envy us!
I tried to tell my old friend that just hanging in until better times is crucial. It can be like telling a child stuck inside on a rainy day that the sun will be back. It's just a lot of words. I suppose what's needed is faith. Faith that those words have truth imbued in them. Better days are always ahead for those who look for them.
One of the most difficult things I've had to learn to live with is happiness. Given my checkered past I all too often have found myself thinking that if happy I must be doing something wrong, that surely I do not deserve such joy. Of course such thinking could quite literally ruin my fun. It was like a self fulfilling prophesy. Embracing life's victories and treasures and good moods is an essential survival skill. Seizing those moments, luxuriating in them, can add meaning too. We should not just learn through pain but through happiness as well. What a cynical notion that we can only learn through suffering.
Good times and happiness are often the result of what we choose to label as luck. But luck is a residue of design.
Life is paradoxical. It is at once infinitely complicated and very simple. Sadly, too many people complicate the simple while failing to simplify the complicated. Here's a simplification that I think is useful: show up and do the right thing, good times are coming.