I had an interesting conversation with an old friend a few evenings ago regarding the differences between people to whom difficult (or even traumatic) things had happened throughout their lives and those who have had smooth sailing. Which group was the more fortunate of the two?
Perhaps it was the wine, but I found I continued to think about this long after we parted ways.
I know people who have led what appear to be charmed lives. Nothing ever seems to go wrong. They somehow always slide through life without so much as a ripple.
This friend is one of them. When I asked, after the second bottle of Moscato, what the most difficult thing was that she has come up against in her life thus far, she replied that it was not being able to buy the most recent season of her favorite TV show when it came out on DVD.
“No, no”, I said shaking my head, “the most difficult thing you have ever dealt with in your life”.
“Oh”, she countered, and seemed to ponder the question earnestly. “Not being able to buy the most recent season of any TV show I like when it comes out on DVD”.
This, I thought to myself, explains a LOT.
I was in a relationship once with a man like this and I always had the niggling hunch that the root of our trouble was that we saw life from drastically differing perspectives. He, like my friend, was blissfully clueless as to the ways of the world. Imobile in the face of chaos or tragedy. When he considered something (a topic of conversation or life event) “deep”, I always found myself feeling like I was standing alone in the kiddie end of the pool, up to only my ankles. Deep? This guy and I had wildly varying definitions of the word.
Because life had been easy on him.
So who has it better? Those who claw their way to daylight on the other side of very dark tunnels, or those who wouldn’t know tragedy if it stared them coldly in the face.
My vote goes to the former…the gritty survivors.
Perhaps I am biased, for I am one.
I come from a thick-necked, volatile, feisty Jewish family. Even back to the beginning, my people have had to meet the challenges of life with chins up and fists balled.
My venerable Grandfather used to say, when life took a decidedly uphill slant, “At least it’s not dull.” I can’t tell you how many times throughout the years I have had a chuckle thinking that very thing. I’ve had my share of suckage, trust me. Not a moment of it dull.
Her father’s daughter, my amazing Mum used to send me to my slumber growing up disseminating life lessons as one would tell a child fairy tales, “Do you want to know the only thing you can count on to carry you through this life?” Even when I had heard it a thousand times, I would whisper eagerly, “Yes!” And she would smile and point her finger as though it were a magic wand down the bed to my feet.
My own two feet. The one thing I could be certain would keep me moving forward.
They haven’t failed me yet.
Her sister, my cherished Aunt, taught me this: “If you lay down you can be sure of one thing; you will be walked on. So stand up. Always. Never quit. Never turn your back and run. Whatever it is, you are stronger.”
One more. A dear, dear woman and friend of the family I was privileged to know used to hold me in her fragile arms and say, “Life is short and full of pain. Be thankful for the oases of happiness”.
These were people who had lived through shit I can only imagine and which it is not necessary to speak of here except for this: The last one I mentioned bore a tattoo on her paper-like skin from Dachau.
Whenever life throws something at me that I begin to imagine I cannot handle, I think of her.
The ones who have influenced me most in the nearly half-century I have walked this earth have been wizened by pain. Clarified, as if precious metal.
Perhaps it is impossible to genuinely know the “oases of happiness” unless you have first known devastation.
Those beloved members of my soul circle have passed on now, and I cannot express in mere words how empty my life has felt as they one by one trickled from it, leaving me to murmur to them in my solitude as I fall asleep, recounting their lessons and stories, lest time make them fade. And so I can pass them on to you and thus keep their legacies alive.
I am drawn to the steely strong ones of this world. I don’t suffer a victim easily, or for very long.
As for me, my life has surely not been dull. Looking back as the decades ticked by, I can clearly see how the events on my path have shaped me. Rounded my rough edges. Smoothed me.
I have had experiences that were so spectacular they can make the breath catch in my throat even now. Sometimes I can’t believe how insanely blessed I have been.
Then again, I could tell you stories that would leave your mouth agape. Or make you cry. I used to think that, if you were a good-hearted person and did your best to do right, bad things wouldn’t happen to you.
Boy was I was wrong.
Nevertheless, I wouldn’t trade those stories for anything. I wouldn’t take the things that shattered me like glass out of my history. Both the sublime and the ugly have made me the individual I am today.
Not much will shake me anymore. Sometimes I am cognizant during some far from ideal life event, that me in younger days would have reacted quite differently – often these moments call to mind a vision of a ‘twenty-something me’ reacting with loud indignation, while ‘forty-something me’ just snorts and shakes her head.
The years also find my heart fiercely loyal. Most likely because I have known my share who were decidedly not. Should you earn my trust and respect (and, dare I even say it, my love) you will find in me a woman who will stand in the midst of the very fire with you.
Chin up and fists balled, just like those who came before me.
So many things in this world have become shallow and petty. We are evolving into a disposable society. We crave the latest and the greatest the moment it appears. Hard work is often accompanied by resentment. We have lost track of what we need in the vapid pursuit of what we want.
People are transients in our lives. Relationships have become “options” to keep open. No one plants their feet and clasps hands to stick it out and work through things anymore. The illusion of the next best thing has replaced persistence and problem solving.
I’ve had the wind knocked out of me by this mentality in those I have chosen to allow close to me. I have marveled at how my conscious decision to overtly treasure those I care about is utterly taken for granted – as though the next friend, worker, lover, whatever, would give what I am willing to give.
Everything I am.
In all it’s flawed, nonsensical, unique, filterless, probably at times frustrating as hell, wondrous glory.
Someone said to me recently that they had a hard time believing I am as easy to get along with as I appear to be. My response? I am. It really is that simple. I’ve learned what truly matters in life and what is merely minutia.
Hint: most of it is minutia.
I’m not looking for anything out of life, or from people, that I’m not willing to earn. I have no interest in demanding or scoring a free ride or in “winning”. Another thing my Grandfather used to say is, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” Amen to that.
It’s not a trick. It’s who I am. It is who life shaped me into.
What matters to me the most is creating a life that is simple, happy, a part of something meaningful. The thing I have come to treasure over any possession, accolade or station is the simple gift of loving and being loved. The best gift I could ever hope to receive, a new day to learn and grow and, hopefully, make someone smile.
Sure, it took forty-seven years and a tempest to get me here.
To polish me.
For a long time I thought of myself like a river stone. Once a splintered bit of limestone now rounded by the constant flow of the water around me. But river stones are grey and bleak and I am neither of those things.
I am sea glass.
Once I was shiny and new. Fragile. Once I had razor-like edges. Once I was full of…something.
But I found myself in the ocean, and the brine emptied me; stripped me of any label I bore and broke me upon the rocks until I barely recognized myself, tossed me in its furor and washed me clean.
I wouldn’t trade my journey for anything on this earth. I wouldn’t have wanted the easy way. It’s not in my blood after all.
Now I no longer catch the light in my translucence. I’m pitted and opaque. I have taken on the aquamarine color of my vast, liquid mother. I have let go of my contents and instead of containing, I myself am held by something far greater than myself.
I thrill in the adventure of where the waves will take me next.
I am free.
My sharpness has finally been relinquished to the tides.
I am smooth.
No label could ever be adhered to my imperfectly perfect surface again.
I am infinite.
Regardless of the fact that the world may walk past me, unseeing, as I lay waiting in the sand to be refined by the tumult yet again…
I am beautiful.