Back in college, I’m sure there were sad and terrible things that happened around me; I was oblivious to it. I was filled with what many bitterly call the “arrogance of youth”. I saw pain and suffering from a well-buffered distance. A girl in our apartment complex was killed in a car accident, and I saw the unfolding sadness with a detached regret that I didn’t know her better, but mostly I somehow felt buoyed by the feeling that, “Whew. It’s a good thing I’m me, because things like that don’t happen to me.” The greatest loss I’d had in my life was the loss of a grandfather that I had met four or five times in my childhood.
I married a year or two after college, had healthy children, a supportive spouse, and continued to live in my bubble. Somehow, life’s most painful lessons evaded me (or I evaded them, so I thought).
Then 2008 came. It doesn’t matter what the details are, because the details are only dressing on the story of everyone’s lives. I was forced to realize, as 2008 came to a close, that I’m standing in front of a large pile of cards precipitously clinging to each other as they soar to the sky. Oh sure, several smaller cards have been knocked over during the last 38 years of my life, but I’m now wondering how many more can be taken out before the entire structure collapses. This delicate structure has certainly been with me my whole life; it’s only now that I’ve noticed it, emerging from a self-induced fog of denial. As I face down the reality that I am actually getting older, I’m actually susceptible to diseases, people I love are actually dying, I wonder how it was that I lasted this long with the comfy illusion that bad things happened to other people.
And the pace seems to be speeding up. Cards are starting to waver all over my house. It’s as if I’ve noticed this house of cards just moments before the entire structure gets picked up by the wind and tossed in my face.
People I love are crying themselves to sleep every night because of divorce, death, disease, loss. I am facing my own set of circumstances that I’m sure I didn’t believe could happen to me. We’re all facing the reality of a life we didn’t plan, pain we didn’t want, bodies that didn’t listen to our best laid ideals for them.
I’m not sure why it’s taken me this long to realize that I am not immune to the realities of passing through this life. Perhaps I thought I was strong enough to learn life’s lessons without being actually touched by life’s lessons.
My blinders are off.
My fragile house is still standing, but the wind is picking up. I’m glad I can see it. It’s more gratifying to smile at this faulty structure that wobbles before me than it is to smile in the face of nothing.
And smile is exactly what I’m going to keep doing. Smiling seems to calm the wind and stop the trembling cards just a bit.
How’s your fragile house? Have you noticed it yet? What did it take to bring it out of the fog? And most importantly, are you still smiling?