Sometimes our lives look quite nice on the outside. We’re strong and smart and handling our responsibilities very well. Good things seem to happen. Even exciting things. We put on a brave face, we share photos, we joke and smile as often as possible.
Only a few, if anyone, know about the reality under that façade of well-being in those moments, days, weeks, months when there’s a crisis and life is overwhelming, and we are caught up in a seemingly endless struggle with fear, physical discomfort or grief…wondering when it will end, if it will end, and how we’re going to make it.
And through it all, we look at others and wonder how on earth are THEIR lives so nice…from the outside. Forgetting that the façade might be hiding challenges we can’t even imagine.
Periods of great stress and struggle in life make us cynical, at least for a while. We forget to look for the good.
All we see is that we’re broken and vulnerable. We see the vulnerability as a bad thing, and relentlessly beat ourselves up for it. And as if self-flagellation isn’t enough, this vulnerability also sets us up to be criticized, taken advantage of and hurt by those who, like predators in the wild, can smell vulnerability and pounce.
We mistake vulnerability for weakness, especially if we’ve suffered because of it, on top of suffering through our own challenges.
But the vulnerability isn’t weakness. It’s never weakness. Periods in life when things are too difficult or painful to even put in words…when we are ashamed to admit just how hard a time we’re having…make us stronger, more grateful, and more compassionate.
We come through with more wisdom, and self-awareness. We know more about who we are. We grow and evolve into, simply put, enhanced versions of ourselves. We value kindness, patience and any bit of goodness that shows up that much more.
In the moments of greatest struggle, the only way out is to start seeing that not all is lost. That we are human, and human beings make mistakes, get lost, suffer, and recover. That we are stronger than we think.
Yesterday, I found a journal from 20 years ago. One entry, written in the fall, talked about the tragedy of 9/11 and also a documentary I had watched at that time on women’s struggles and oppression in Afghanistan.
Here is an excerpt that mirrors the words in my heart today:
“But hope, as the reporter said, was found in the most surprising of places: among the poorest and most persecuted. Their victory was to live another day as best as they could.
And so I look at my life, at my privilege, at the privilege of many.
Every one of us has more complaints and more issues than can be counted. Every one of us has more false goals and inconsistent expectations than can be counted.
We are so often frustrated by the apparent failure to make our lives into what we imagine they should be. We look to each other for someone to blame, attempting to control and correct our own and each other’s behaviors, tastes and inclinations as a means to compensate for our failure in creating a perfect life, perfect health, perfect anything.
We don’t always see the good things in ourselves and around us, however little good there might be at a given time.
But the truth of the good things in our lives does not lie. And all that we forget, or can not see has to be remembered and seen. All the tangled emotions and pointless confusion have to go.
In the end, our lives are not cluttered by financial burdens, other people’s imperfections, too many objects in the house, too much dust, pet hair, unfinished repairs and so on. Our lives are cluttered by our own self-criticism, unrealistic expectations, false judgments of others, and habit of taking for granted the things that make life worth living. And also, by guilt, lack of compassion towards ourselves, stubborn pride and beliefs that do not serve us.
It doesn’t matter where our individual dark clouds come from. What matters is getting beyond them. And doing so while allowing ourselves and others to be human. Beautifully, imperfectly human.
If we are among the lucky ones to have homes to clean, and bills to pay, and struggles to face, it is because of these ‘problems’ that we are alive!
And we shouldn’t under-estimate the privilege of being free to pick up a vacuum, a mop…choose books and clothes and take a walk and do or not do so many things. Every single day, even with the routines of work and other responsibilities, we have choices. Even in illness, stress, and misery, we have choices.
Even one choice is a priceless gift.
Every day, we can try to take a look at our lives, at what matters most and make an effort, a genuine effort to let go of negative thoughts, pointless resentments, unfair judgments – towards ourselves and others.
It’s a cliché, but true. We can’t change the past. But we can change the now. So instead of criticism, let there be praise. Instead of judging others, let there be compassion. Instead of blame, let there be tolerance and understanding. Instead of imposing schedules, ideas and making negative comments, let there be modesty, withdrawal without martyrdom or resentment, and a focus on something that can bring joy.
Let us be just a bit more thoughtful and easy-going. Allow humor. Build things on love.
Our victory is to live another day, even the hardest of days, as best as we can. And that is victory.