Last evening, I received a call from a close friend who has really been through the wringer, both personally and professionally, over the last two years. The hits just keep coming, and yesterday something happened that finally pushed her, a woman who possesses indomitable strength and a ferocious will, over the edge. She reached her limit, and was in tears, just needing to get it all out and wondering how to make it stop.
In the course of our ensuing discussion, I raised a question that I’ve asked a lot over the last few years: Why is it that when something goes seriously wrong in our lives, the universe seems to pile on rather than letting us deal with one crisis at a time?
I have countless friends who have been forced to deal with piles of troubles at once. If they’re lucky, it’s something frustrating but mundane (while the kids are home sick and you’re missing a deadline, the furnace dies and you get a foot of snow). But more often, it involves multiple serious issues – relationship, family, financial or health crises, and often, the death of a close friend or family member.
For me, the millennium kicked off a decade of ongoing upheaval, loss and tragedy once removed. I kept trying to figure out why, but slowly came to realize that it’s all just a part of life that, amazingly, I’d mostly escaped up until then. In my younger days, I had very few encounters with sorrow or loss beyond the normal vicissitudes of unrequited love or friendship broken, an elderly grandparent’s passing or the death of a pet.
It’s often said that life gives us only what we can bear; that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. From devastation, we gain perspective and wisdom, and we learn that we can survive most anything. But as I told my friend, I wonder if there isn’t a deeper message in all that turmoil. Most of us hang on tight to the illusion that we exert some degree of control over our schedules, our careers, our relationships, our bodies, our lives. At some point, I believe, we have to learn how to loosen our grip and let go. If we don’t do it sooner, life forces us to do it later.
What’s that old saying? You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.