After every holiday comes the dreaded day after. The low after the high. As I get older, I think I’ve learned how to navigate those crests and dips a bit better, but inevitably, there comes a moment where I think, this is too low, I can’t do this… and then, gratefully, that feeling also passes…
I’ve lived a life of extremes. It’s true, I’ve seen my share of loss. Yet, I continue to get very excited about things – special times with family and friends, sharing pieces of writing, seeing my son achieve something important that he’s been working on… how can I not allow my emotions to run across the full spectrum of possibility?
And yet, you and I both know, the higher you allow yourself to be, the lower you’ll feel on the back end, in comparison. It’s simple physics. How can we navigate those lows? Surprisingly, having already banked a bunch of really awful experiences, I have a handy compass that has given me instant perspective on bad times. At this point in my life, I can honestly say that it takes a lot to rattle me. It doesn’t take the actual sting out of current pains and sorrows, but it does provide a buffer that prevents me from getting too deep into a pity party.
What I do find continually challenging, though, is witnessing the struggles of others. Sometimes it’s very hard to know what to do, especially when you know that you can pray, you can send love, and you can share a kind word, but the person you love will still be in pain, will still wrestle with their demons, still face their own fears head-on. It’s hard to accept the fact that we really can’t fundamentally change the substance of another person’s experience. We may be able to mitigate the effects from time to time, but that’s about it.
One place that can be particularly heartbreaking is in the experience of being a parent, especially as my son gets older, and I realize that my ability to intercede on his behalf out in the world grows progressively smaller with each passing day. I can’t tell you how much I treasure the time-stopping moments we share with one another, cuddled on the couch reading a book together, or watching a movie. At the same time, I realize that it’s my job to share as much of (what I consider) my wisdom with him, to arm him for the increasing task of facing the world as an independent human being. Wow. Talk about letting go…
Something that also continues to tug at my heart is the ongoing challenges of my adult friends and family. The older we get, inevitably, the more health problems we all face. Even as I work to manage my own issues, I’m acutely aware of the battles all around me. Some of them are more daunting than others. Taken together, it’s a strange collage of trial and tribulation.
Listen, I know that there’s a thin line between empathy and unhealthy identification. We can lose ourselves in the negative experiences of others, thinking that we can fix them or make it all better. At the same time, there is the danger of swinging in the opposite direction, of being so frightened by the struggles of another that we run in the opposite direction, as though mere association with misfortune is enough to bring it on one’s self.
As always, balance is key. I’m starting this day with a real sense of gratitude for my current state of well-being, and the hopes that my loved ones will each see their way through their immediate and long term challenges. I do know, from personal experience, that we are each capable of surviving things so much worse than we’ve ever imagined. You don’t know until you get there, just how strong you are. It’s something to keep in mind.
Photo courtesy of MarilynJane