Thom and I are renting a cottage at the beach until the end of September. Sounds wonderful, right? But I’m torn. Yes, it’s still sizzling hot back home in our desert community, but once September hits things start to kick off. Although not officially the beginning of the “desert season,” once school starts more and more activities pop up on the calendar. Traffic picks up, meetups get scheduled, and friends start calling with plans. So even while I’m loving the cooler weather at the beach, part of me is anticipating seeing those friends and getting involved in social and volunteer events back home.
When I think about it, that tension between what I have and what I’m possibly missing is something that happens to me/us all the time in one form or another. It’s similar to the oxymoron of celebrating life in one moment and yet feeling pain or sadness at the same moment. Or how about feeling optimistically excited, and yet somewhat anxious about what’s ahead? And probably the biggest one, feeling grateful and happy while recognizing deep in our heart that there are huge challenges going on all around us. How do we handle those paradoxes, and where do we go from there?
This has been on my mind for the last couple of weeks mainly because one of us, and I’m not naming any names, has been dealing with a persistent health challenge. Nothing that will take a person down, just a relentless discomfort. Know what I mean? If you do, or at least are willing to admit it, then chances are good that (when it happens to you) you do everything you can to fix it—get rid of it—and have it DONE! But time and again, no matter how much we want to move through or past something annoying or painful, it often has a life of its own. Or as I told another friend this week who sprained her ankle and expected it to heal in a week, “It takes as long as it takes!” No matter how true that is, most of the time we want a “healing!” and we want it NOW.
So what do we do? Do we just pretend that it isn’t happening? Well sometimes that isn’t possible, especially when we are like my friend who is in pain and hobbling around. Besides facing the fact that “It is what it is,” and we can’t change what is happening (or happened), about the only thing we do have 100% control over is how we respond. Ugh! I know, I know. That is really easy to say—but when it’s you and someone tells you that, you sometimes just want to slap them.
The thing is, I think we all know this. If you’ve been reading SMART Living 365 for long, I say this A LOT. That’s mainly because I need to hear it over and over again. I’m reminded that even when things seem really tough—and I’m not denying that sometimes situations are so devastating I can’t even imagine how some people manage—even then, there are examples of those who have remained optimistic, done good work, and kept going. I want to be one of those people.
And let’s face it, no matter what your age right now, as we age we will face other certain challenges that we may not be able to simply fix and move on from. Some of the “gifts” of aging means that we have to turn around and face the fact that our bodies don’t respond quite the same way as when we are young. I’m not talking here about not doing our best to maintain our bodies by exercising, eating well, getting good sleep, staying connected etc.—of course we want to do that. But when uncomfortable or tragic change occurs for one reason or another (accidents, genetics, lifestyle, circumstances) we still have the choice about how we will proceed. We can complain and fight it and make ourselves, and everyone around us, miserable. Or?
It’s the same with world events. I’m not blind, nor in denial that our world is facing enormous challenges on many different fronts. Politics are disastrous, healthcare is a nightmare, civility and civil rights are a war zone, and the climate is in flat-out crisis. And yet? And yet some people still manage do what they can to help change things, AND AT THE SAME TIME live a life of grace, purpose, optimism and generosity. I want to be one of those people.
Sometimes it is really hard. I know without a doubt that I and my family fall in the extremely fortunate side of just about any equation in the world today. Yet sometimes I still want to complain and ask, “why me? Why now?” Plus, I sometimes see and talk to others who in many cases are even better off than I am, but in a far worse state of mind. Their position or circumstances don’t seem to insulate them from being stuck in a state of deep mental, emotional or physical suffering.
Yet at the same time, I see others far WORSE than the rest of us, facing enormous health issues for themselves or loved ones, ruinous financial problems, broken families, tragically heart-breaking situations, or just about one of a hundred challenges—and yet they still somehow manage to see and express the bright side of life and possibility. Even from their tragic place they are able to offer constructive action and hope. They don’t deny the pain—they just don’t let it define them or the world they live in. I want to be one of those people.
This morning I read a great editorial by the author Mary Piper about turning 70. While I’m only 64, I read such optimism in her words about getting older. She said, “By our 70s, we’ve had decades to develop resilience. Many of us have learned that happiness is a skill and a choice. We don’t need to look at our horoscopes to know how our day will go. We know how to create a good day.” So true. What I hear her say is, “We get to make it up!”
Piper continues with, “We may not have control, but we have choices. With intention and focused attention, we can always find a forward path. We discover what we are looking for. If we look for evidence of love in the universe, we will find it. If we seek beauty, it will spill into our lives any moment we wish. If we search for events to appreciate, we discover them to be abundant.”
Is it any wonder that one of my favorite all-time quotes is from F. Scott Fitzgerald who wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” I’m not sure about the “intelligence” required, but I know it takes what Mary Piper says, “intention and focused attention.” I strive to do that every day no matter how torn I am by what I am experiencing or seeing in the world around me.
So okay. I think I am, we all are, torn in two or more pieces all the time by opposing forces in either ourselves or the world. It’s the old story of the two wolves. One is good, the other bad. It always boils down to: which are we feeding? Let’s never forget that the SMART choice is to feed the good and to stay aware in every moment that we get to choose which way we want our thoughts and emotions to go. And maybe, just maybe, the world around us will flow that same way. I want to be one of those people. What about you?