Sometimes I get emails from people who’ve been through the kind of loss that makes it hard to get up in the morning; the kind where you open your eyes and it all comes crashing back and you just want to disappear, go back to sleep and go back in time and not live in the current reality with its crushing pain and lack of light or hope. Without your effort, without even an inhale to power them, the tears just stream from your eyes, and even that feels like too much life. Everything becomes an effort, to breathe in and breathe out, to find a reason to get in the shower, eat, put one foot in front of the other. The kind of loss that makes you question everything and think, “No. Not this. This I can’t do.” Those are the emails that break my heart, and they’d break yours, too. Because the absolute truth is, sometimes horrendous things happen to very good people.
We all want to order things, to feel things make sense, and that we have some control in this world, some say over our destiny or what might befall us. If I do this, then this will happen, and if I do that, this other thing will happen. But how well does any of that work out for us, really? Don’t we have a whole bunch of stuff we’re taught to do, with the promise that we’ll be happy if we see it through? Aren’t we told if we work hard, and go to good schools, and get a good job and make lots of money, then we’ll be happy? If we look right, then we’ll meet the “right person” and then they’ll “complete” us and then we’ll be happy? It all ends with us being happy, but none of it works, and anyone who’s toed the line can tell you that. You find the answers inside, and there is no formula for the human heart. So this quid pro quo system we’re fed from day one is a lie, and most people find this out after exhausting themselves trying to get it right.
We don’t just fall prey to this ideology when it comes to external factors. If we’re good people and we think good thoughts and we do good deeds, then we’ll be rewarded with a good life, right? Well, yes, as long as you derive fulfillment from doing good for the sake of doing good, because it gives life meaning and you feel a sense of purpose when you extend yourself and lend someone a hand or an ear or your shoulder. The joy in life lies in connection, in uncovering your gifts and giving them away freely. But if you start to think that this protects you, that there’s some kind of good person account you can draw from that will save you from loss, grief, shock and pain, then you’re in some very dangerous territory.
There’s such a thing as chaos, just as we see it in nature. (There are your choices, too, of course. Sometimes people pick the storm, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.) There are tornadoes out of nowhere, and hurricanes and earthquakes and tsunamis, and they don’t hit the places where the “bad people” live (although some very confused people have made suggestions to the contrary); they are equal opportunity levelers. They hit where they hit, and they wipe out homes where troubled people are living, and where kind, loving people are living. They knock down the doors of lonely people who set the table for one every night, and for families that have too many mouths to feed. This is the nature of life, it brings everything to everyone, and it’s not a level playing field. Some people will lose those they love most in this world violently, suddenly, and with no time for goodbyes. Some will lose loved ones slowly, and wrestle with the reality of their absolute powerlessness to stop it, and other people will not face grief like that.
To think you can earn points against calamity, to think you might rack up some frequent kindness miles is really just misguided. You get the reward from the action itself. You give of yourself, and it feels amazing, and that is all (and that’s a lot). You figure out at some point that the best you can do is create a loving world within you, so that you spread love as you move through the world around you. You let go of the idea that you can control anything but yourself, and even that you won’t do successfully all the time. Have as much compassion for yourself and for every other person you encounter as you can muster because it’s a vulnerable undertaking, this business of being human. Some people open to that reality, and others steel themselves against it, but somewhere underneath the surface we all understand it’s there. Those who try to toughen themselves against the knowledge that we can’t order things are the same people who have a difficult time when someone close to them goes through an incomprehensible loss. People who are grieving are often left to go it alone, because those closest to them don’t want to face the reality that it could also happen to them. They want to run from that idea, and in so doing, they run from the person who really needs that hug, that dinner to be made, that help getting into the shower, or running a comb through their hair, or making it over to the window just to see the sun for a moment. We don’t know. We are not in control. Given that, I say love your heart out. Show up all the way. Don’t let fear stop you from living a life that feels right for you, because you have this moment. What are you going to do with it?
Sending you love, and a hug if you need one,