Last night I attended an annual holiday party, intent on being the best receiver I could be. (Please see my previous post!) This party is one of those events where you see people you haven’t seen since last year’s party. The experience reminds me of seeing a small child who you haven’t seen for several months – the changes in people are often dramatic. Although I had many interesting conversations, two stood out – for the same reason.
The first was with a lovely woman I’ve known for many years. Our kids went to school together and we saw each other many times. But this time, she was different – there was a depth and an aliveness I hadn’t noticed before. When I shared that perception with her, she told me that as a result of a painful divorce, she had been forced to become more independent. Now single, she had learned about and taken over her finances so she felt knowledgeable and in control, moved into and redesigned a living space that suited her, and nurtured even closer relationships with her children that brought her great happiness. Although she initially felt the divorce was the worst thing that could happen, she now understood that it was this event that had prompted her to grow, develop as a person, and lay the foundation for the wonderful relationships she was enjoying.
A second person shared that because of a tragic experience, her husband was now working throughout the world, bringing better medical care to underserved areas. Although his former practice was very successful, he was now involved in work that was much more fulfilling and he was making a difference in the lives of so many people. Again, without the preceding difficult situation, he would never have expanded his life in this way.
We all tend to label some things “good” and other things “bad.” But do we ever really know? So often things that are “bad” lead to the best things in life.
In the words of the Palestinian poet, Naomi Shihab Nye,
“Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things…Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.”
Learning from difficult situations takes a willingness to be vulnerable enough to acknowledge that things haven’t gone the way we wanted, an openness to the possibility of a new path, and courage to take our first steps. Often, our new path isn’t initially clear and our first steps can be terrifying, like walking into a thick fog where our next step could take us off a cliff. But as we take those steps and feel our way, we often find ourselves in a much better place than the one we left.
So my hope for all of us is that, as 2014 brings the difficulties that it will, we find the support we need to be vulnerable, open and courageous to create a life that is fulfilling and that reflects who we are as unique, precious individuals.