Newsflash: Bad Things Happen
“Alright” the doctor said, flipping through the test results that the nurse had just handed him. “Hum. Ok” he muttered to himself as I tried not to jump out of the chair and rip the results from his hands.
I mean really now, read a little faster and tell me what the hell is going on.
“Ok” he repeated, this time finally looking up at me and closing the chart. “As you remember, a few months ago your son had surgery to repair a defect in his inner ear, caused by a problem from a surgery he had on both ears two years prior.”
“Yes, I remember” I replied, anxious to move the conversation away from what I already knew to what I was waiting for him to tell me.
“And if you remember, the surgery had not been a success and we were planning on giving it another go around once we let the ear heal for a little bit.”
“Yea, I know,” I related, “and then he had those problems with his kidneys and had to have an unexpected surgical procedure done, and I’m finally circling back around to take care of this.”
“Well,” the doctor sighed, “it appears as if he failed the hearing test, and at this point the surgery that he is going to need is above what I can do, so I’m going to have to send you to another specialist.”
“It’s a long procedure that involves opening the ear up from the back and rebuilding the inner ear so that it can process sound. It’s much more involved than anything I would do.”
Great. Just great.
I got some information about the surgery, and when I realized that because of some very stringent post-surgical restrictions that I would have to take roughly an entire month off of work to make sure that my four-year-old doesn’t jump, run, bend over, lift anything, trip over anything, move his head too quickly, or anything else that involved being four years old and alive, I nearly passed out.
Then I went home and at 8pm at night, found myself in the bathtub trying to push another dislocated rib back into place, eating cake (because cake makes things feel better), while crying my eyes out (that’s a lovely mental image, isn’t it?) and as usual feeling like life isn’t fair. He’s going to need surgery, it’s going to hurt him, his summer will be ruined, and this is not fair. We have already been through four surgeries in the last year, and we were supposed to be done! We were supposed to be happy now and be able to put that all behind us, and now it’s starting all over again!
But life really isn’t fair, is it? I mean I know that in theory, it’s the same thing that I remind my kids of every single day when they prepare themselves to fight to the death over the bowl that appears to have one extra cheerio in it, or when they turn “walking to the car” into an all-out brawl because “she walked in front of me last time and it’s my turn to walk in front of her,” but still, this sucks.
Because really, it’s all about me here, isn’t it? And since we are talking about me, I’d like to point out that I’m feeling like life isn’t fair.
So there I am, sitting in the bathtub, rib grinding on my sternum, crying onto my cake, crying when some of it fell into the bathtub (don’t judge me, I was on a roll), crying harder when I knocked my wine glass into the tub while trying to fish the cake out, and I had a very startling revelation of just how ridiculous I must have looked.
OK, you can judge me a little bit.
Life isn’t fair, I know that. We talk about that all the time on here, when I talk about everything that I’ve gone through, and then you watch me as I eventually learn to accept the hand that I’ve been dealt. I talk about how I can’t change things, and that the only thing I can do is to accept the lessons in them, and move on.
But I have to say, there’s really only so much that someone can accept before they are so full of lessons that they explode.
I’m pretty close to that point.
“Hello, Lord, I feel like I get it now! I’ve learned patience and self-restraint, I’ve learned compassion and empathy. I’ve learned to live with less and I’ve learned how to love. I started a nonprofit to use what I’ve learned, and I’m giving back to humanity.”
“Can you hear me God? I THINK I GET IT NOW, SO UM…. YOU CAN STOP.”
And then, sitting in the tub, talking out loud while I fished cake and a wine glass out from under the bubbles, I started to laugh.
At first I thought “oh great. So this is the point where I lose my mind, begin the maniacal laugh my mother used to do when she was in the midst of a psychotic break, and this is where I crack. Eventually the kids will wake up, see me naked and covered in cake, wine, and water wrinkled skin, and they will have to call 911. The neighbors will see me carried away on a stretcher and they will whisper amongst themselves, ‘yep, we always knew that girl was an odd one’.”
But then I realized that I was laughing, because this was just all so absurd. Everything from the medical bad luck irony, to the now soggy cake floating in my tub — this is exactly the shit that comedy movies make millions off of.
I like funny. I can do funny.
I also realize that in the grand scheme of things, this isn’t that bad. The doctor gave me some bad news, but it wasn’t the worst news. The Boy Child needs surgery, but thankfully he doesn’t need something like chemotherapy. I’m in pain, but I’m not dying.
Life isn’t fair, but thankfully I still have a life, and so does he.
So maybe this isn’t about learning a lesson. Maybe all this weird-ass-shit (pardon my language) is not about learning lessons. Maybe the lesson that I’ve been missing, is that there doesn’t need to be a lesson in everything.
Maybe I already learned all the lessons, and now I need to focus more on finding my joy in a life that will never be perfect.
Because life is never going to be perfect.
It’s funny (speaking of funny), because this is something that I talk about with my nonprofit clients all the time. In fact, just last week I was sitting with one of my support group clients who had left her husband about two years ago, and was still really struggling to stay involved in her current life. Her mind had been so focused on several upcoming court dates, that the rest of her life was falling apart. Her general demeanor over the whole thing was “I just need to get through these next few weeks, and then it will all be over. I can’t do anything else right now, and if things fall apart, that’s fine because I’ll get back to it later. I just need to get through all of this so that I can be happy.”
I couldn’t fault her for feeling that way because of what she was going through, but I did feel the need to point something out.
“I’ve been there,” I said to her. “And it does get better and it will get easier, but it will never completely go away. We’ve been meeting for two years now, and in every meeting you tell me ‘I just need to get over this next bump and then I’ll pull it together,’ but then the next time I see you there is a new bump. The thing is, you will most likely always have another court date hanging on the horizon, or the extra counseling appointment for your kids, or the big project at work. As soon as you feel that you are in the clear, something will pop up. And that’s OK, because that is life. This is your life, and we are going to figure out how to get through it, and if the only thing you feel ready to deal with right now is moment to moment, then that’s OK and we can sit here for a little while longer, but eventually, soon, we need to start looking at the bigger picture. Eventually we need to figure out how to get you to be OK with the fact that everything will probably never be totally A-OK, because that’s not reality. We have to live in and around reality, and find a way to be happy in it.”
The reality is that my life is never going to be perfect, and it’s my job to find the joy in an imperfect life.
I think too often we as humans have a tendency to want to categorize and label parts of our life so that we have an easier time coping with, and understanding them. “This was a bad thing that happened. There was a good thing happening, and then a bad thing happened, and then after that, everything else was ruined because of the bad thing.” It makes it easier to understand our feelings and quantify our perspectives, if we can label everything that went on around them; “Good, bad, pretty bad, fairly good, etc.”
But the thing is, it’s all just life, and life is not that black and white. Sometimes things happen that we perceive to be good, and sometimes things happen that we perceive to be bad, but the problem comes into play when we let those labels seep out into everything around them, and taint them. “That was the year that I lost my job, and that was a bad year.”
Yes, the job loss was bad, yes, I know that it had a ripple effect on everything around it, but that doesn’t mean that the entire year was bad. What it means is that you allowed one bad event to taint everything around it. You let one bad experience set the tone for all of the experiences that happened alongside it, and because of it you were unable to perceive anything else in that year, as anything other than bad.
I do that all the time when bad things happen to me, so I’m definitely not pointing any fingers at anyone else, because the one pointing towards my face is too big for me to see around, therefore I can’t see any of you to judge.
I’m just saying, it is what happens.
And it’s natural. It’s natural and sometimes needed to be able to deal with the issue at hand, but when you allow a negative situation to become the sole focus of your life, well that’s when things such as depression set in; because you can no longer seeing anything good.
It’s what I let happen when I started to think about how it wasn’t fair that we were supposed to be done with surgeries, and now The Boy Child has to have another one, which will further delay our happiness, and ruin his summer. We could no longer be happy and look forward, because we were unhappy and needed to halt everything.
When I let the surgery become the sole focus of our life moving forward, it didn’t allow me to see anything else that might happen alongside it; movies in the park, snuggles on the couch, chalk on the driveway, and tending our garden. Sure it might not be the summer that I was expecting for him, but you know what? That doesn’t mean that summer has to be ruined, it just means that it’s going to be different.
Back in January when I talked a little bit about why the blog was slowing down, and why I wouldn’t be writing as much, I touched upon this topic when I said:
But if you choose instead, to focus on everything that went right, well then your day just got a whole hell of a lot better.
In life things will go wrong and sometimes those things will hurt us. We can’t ignore those things, and we must — and should — deal with them, but when we choose to focus all our attention on the things that hurt us most, we stop allowing ourselves to look for anything that will make us feel better.
If you want to be happy, spend more time looking at the things that make you happy.”
In that post I was talking more specifically about moving past trauma, but the message still holds true for daily life in even a broader sense.
Every single day we are going to encounter things that will temporarily alter our course. Some will be less significant such as a spilled cup of coffee, and others will be more life-impacting, like a surgery. But the common factor in each of those situations is that if we want to be able to enjoy the life going on around us, we need to be able — and willing — to look past what we don’t like, in order to find things that we do. I can name at least eight people that I know right now who are waiting for their life to reach some idea of perfection that they have set, before they will truly allow themselves to be happy, but the thing is, life will never be perfect.
My child might always need another surgery, and there is nothing that I can do about that. I can’t change that, but I can choose to live around it, or forever be halted in my tracks.
We cannot create perfection in an imperfect world, and as I’ve said before, the only thing that we have control over is learning to adapt to the imperfections and find joy in the cracks.