When I was a kid, my mother told me that there are no hopeless people, there are only people without hope. At the time, I thought there was no difference between the two states and that she was mistaken. I was nine and thought I knew a lot of stuff, a lot of new stuff that my mother didn’t know.
You know it’s out there, especially on your best days. You can feel the pulse of your life and tap into that energy easily, like holding your mother’s steady hand when you were 4 years old. That feeling of connection is as smooth as soft-serve ice cream on a summer day. That feeling is real-life sweet.
Resilience is the determined buoyancy that comes from living through and beyond the hard times of life. Older? Maybe. Wiser? Hopefully. Stronger? Frequently.
We come into the world with a gasp followed by a cry. From that first cry, to our last breath, we feel both the weight of gravity and the lightness of being, the solace of safety and the thrill of chance. If we are lucky, we have those chances. If we are wise and kind, we pass some of those best chances on to others.
There is a thin, pliable membrane that runs between life and death. It is both fierce and fragile. When we are healthy, most of us don’t ever think of that delicate proximity. We are too busy living to consider dying, except, perhaps, in the abstract and generally in regards to someone else’s life, not our own.
Caregiving is an ongoing endurance triathlon: swimming in dark, choppy waters, cycling a twisted, rutted road that ends in a cliff hanger, and running in every direction simultaneously. In the beginning, adrenaline and a sense of intensely focused purpose will get you a long way. But as you settle into the nearly completely unpredictable new normal of your life, you may find your energy, patience, resilience and sense of humor more difficult to rally. You may feel exhausted, sad, scared and alone.
If you’re going into this new year with the same old resolutions you’ve made and broken for too many years--get more exercise, lose the first 20 pounds, swear off potato chips, stop dating people who don’t really like the real you, finally quit that job, gym, relationship—it’s time to make another plan. This plan is made up of two simple parts: The first is the present moment and the second is your willingness to show up for it every, single day.
We ask the people we love, we ask the people who matter to us professionally, and on a broader level, we ask the people we encounter as we go about our everyday lives: the cashier who takes your coffee order, the jogging neighbor you wave to from the car on the way to work, the elderly woman sitting across from you on the train.
The four questions rarely get asked with words, just as they're rarely answered with words.
Life, as my mother used to say, is “the whole damn glorious story.” She was right. Pared down to the bare bones, there are three sure things in that damn glorious story of life: we are born, we live, and we die. Whatever the actual time we each have, within those years there is a lifetime of learning and yearning ahead of us. And if we dare to risk our hearts, there is a fourth certainty.
Closely-following events give us extraordinary opportunities to see the world, and each other, with new eyes. The eclipse reminded us of how small we are in relation to the universe, and Hurricanes Harvey and Irma remind us how integral we are to each other in the wake of disaster on the home planet.
The ability to spring back from life’s setbacks, losses, tragedies and heartbreak is quite possibly the most essential skill for living a full, happy and healthy life. The acquiring of this skill can take a lifetime, but its acquisition is what makes life radiant on the best days and bearable on the worst.
I came into the world old. By that, I don’t mean an old, wise soul. I mean a child who was, from the beginning, overly familiar with death. By the time that I, the youngest child of a second marriage was born, my old father was on his way to dying and my young mother was in the deep end of the ocean caring for him.
We wait for the better thing that is just beyond our reach, that great good thing that will finally make us happy and whole. We are more than willing to wait for it, even though it take a lifetime. The thing is, waiting to fully live until the right set of circumstances comes along is like waiting for a pie to cook without ever turning on the oven. It takes some heat to get the gold, on a pie or in a life.
Loss is a natural part of life. Intellectually, we know this, but emotionally, not so much. If we’re lucky, we have gentle losses when we’re kids that prepare us for the larger losses the lie ahead. And still, as practiced as we may believe we are with our manageable losses, nothing can adequately prepare us for the big ones, the ones that buckle our knees and take our breath away. Getting back on our feet and learning how to breathe again is a process that is neither linear nor won and done.
Finding a way is a powerful mantra for the times we live in, with people divided on nearly every major issue that confronts humanity, from whether or not climate change is real, (really?), to whether or not it’s a good idea to build a wall between people (ask Germany).
Instead of building a wall between people, families and countries, what if we found a way to enough peace of mind that we could all sanely speak our minds without screaming, ranting, bashing or crashing?
Some moments in life shake you to your core and take your breath away. In these moments, the only way out is to find a path through. If you’re a hiker, then you know if you ever find yourself lost in the woods, you should almost always seek to take the path of least resistance to conserve energy and strength. This means stepping over, not up, walking around and not scaling whatever obstacles you encounter.
Chances are, if you are deeply connected to the people in your life, you may find yourself in the role of a caregiver someday. It’s part of the “all-in, for better or worse” deal that we choose to make with our partners, kids, parents, siblings and friends. It can be the deep end of a seemingly endless, dark sea of physical, emotional and, often, financial support for someone whose future is uncertain. Recognize that caregiving can be one of the sweetest, most meaningful experiences of your life, or leave you gutted and bone dry. In reality, if you take that role on, it will likely do both, sometimes in the same hour.
As I settled into the idea of simply listening instead of demanding to hear what I expected, a space opened up for a new sound to come. It was low at first, and quiet, but as my ear tuned to a new frequency, I heard it clearly. It was the sound of the whoosh of life, as strong and sure as the spring current flowing across the paddle of a kayak, constant as the river that holds the kayaker and his dream.