It's been a rough week. It held one of those moments that make you want to crawl under the covers and stay. And that is exactly what I did...for about 23 hours. But as I lay there in bed at about hour 22, I had to ask myself. So, what are you going to do? Stay in bed from now on? I'd been knocked down before. Was this a choice I really wanted to make? I decided to get up.
Disappointment can be awful. Especially when life takes away something important we thought we had in control. Our reactions usually begin with strong emotions. But at some point there comes a moment when we have to realize we do have a choice in our response. A moment when we choose to live in the misery life has offered us, or to take a step away from it, or push through it to the other side.
When I laid in my bed at hour 22, I realized that the only thing that really made hour 22 different from hour -1 was my reaction. The circumstances were in fact, the same. But because my awareness of them had changed, so did my behavior.
I have seen young cancer patients respond with amazing strength and courage in the face of an unimaginable foe. Perhaps they don't understand the big picture, but perhaps they do. They understand that to do anything other than push through is not an option. If a five year old child can do that with a smile ear to ear in a life threatening situation, why can't we in our lives? Is it childlike faith? Perhaps, but isn't that how we are called to live?
I think sometimes we forget we have choices. We can make choices willfully, but we can also make choices by following the course of least resistance. Like when I leave the tv on a channel and I realize an hour and a half later that I really could care less about what I'm watching. I complain that I have had no time to watch or do x,y, or z, but in reality I still made the choice to leave the channel where it was.
Sometimes our choices are well-intentioned, but end up with the opposite results. Like when you don't want to take medicine because you think it is healthier for your body to do without, but end up getting even sicker. It's a choice.
Life is messy. We all take unintended detours. The problem is that sometimes the subtle choices are so subtle that we miss the fact that we are actually making them. We complain bitterly about our circumstances, when sometimes we are the very ones that are causing our own misery. I complain about gaining weight. True, there are real factors that influence that lately for me with my difficulty walking and continued steroid treatments. Still, that glass of wine or bag of chips I bought didn't force themselves in my hands or stomach. It was a choice.
There are many things in this life we truly have little to no control over. They come out of the blue, knock us to the ground and we gasp to catch our breathe again. They can be moments of joy or grief in its purest form. There is no chance of ignoring the negative ones, but we often miss joyous ones. The day to day grind becomes part of our choice. The busyness becomes like the tv that's on in the background. We just come to expect and accept it and go along for the ride. Until life throws up a roadblock that we can't ignore.
The expression "It is what it is" is one that I particularly dislike. Partially because I know someone who used it frequently, and usually for situations she didn't want to change rather than for ones she couldn't change. Secondly, I don't like the idea that things can't be changed. I like to believe that we CAN change our circumstances. Still, there are times when regardless of whether I like it or not, the expression fits, at least for a season. The bitter temps in northern NH are not my favorite attribute, but at least for the winter, "It is what it is". The trick is following that statement with the advice of the late Pat Summit, who said, "It is what it is, but it will be what you make it."
There is beauty all around us, if we chose to see it. A sunset, an encouraging word, a good meal with a friend, a smile. Just being alive is a blessing. I have a friend I made around the time I first got sick, We exchanged stories of physical struggle. Me with my illnesses, and he with surviving a serious car accident a year ago in which he should have died. They said he'd never walk again, yet he does. In my conversations with him, his compassion was always comforting. I knew he understood my frustration and pain. Yet he would always ends with the same message. "It is hard, but I am able to walk and I am grateful. It is good to be alive." Sometimes I think, but I have lost so much! His response, "But you still have life." Me: I hate not being able to walk without a cane. He: "But you can walk." The message was mighty. He wasn't scolding or preaching, just expressing his own gratitude and appreciation. It was powerful. The struggle is real, but life itself is the reward.
There may be circumstances I cannot control. But there are always elements around them I can control. It was my choice to lay in the bed and worry. It was also my choice to get up. Laying in bed worrying didn't change a thing. But getting out of bed made me feel better. Staying in bed made me feel worse. Our lives are a giant unknown. We think we can control the outcomes, but the reality is that life is such a web of interconnected people, that it is often just an illusion. We may not be able to control circumstances, but we can usually choose our response.
It is the moment I am in is the one that matters. I don't have to worry about next year, next month, or even tomorrow, I only need to worry about now. That's not to say we shouldn't plan for the future. But whether we can or can't manage our future, why not make the best of each moment we have? I can choose to wallow, whine and complain about things I can't control (or can and choose not to) or I can choose to smile and make the best of it. After spending time in the company of both, I think I'll take the latter. It is, after all, my choice.
I don't want to miss moments of wonder because I'm so busy focusing on the moments of disappointment. I don't want to let fear of the unknown stop me from moving forward. I don't want to be a person that brings others down with my fears and frustrations. I want to be someone that makes others feel better and makes their struggles lighter. I want to remember that though I may not control the circumstances, I can control my reactions to them. I may have to do it one moment at a time, but that's ok.
I know I will still have times when I choose to hide under the covers. But hopefully, while I am hiding, my cat will think I am playing and pounce on me and Lilly will want to join in the game and begin barking and licking my face, and Rylie will "Roo-Roo" her playful call as she paws at me to join in, and I will smile, and realize that this moment is actually pretty stinking awesome.
Kristen is a former kindergarten and special education teacher with two wonderful grown children, two precious fur-baby dogs and a mischievous cat. Diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis in September of 2016 and Multiple Sclerosis in December of 2016, and Optic Neuritis in January 2017, life has changed in a big way in a short amount of time. But HOPE springs eternal as she rediscovers and reinvents life along the way.