At some point in your life you will face something bigger than you. Chances are very good it will happen more than once. But that first time can knock you for a loop; pull the proverbial rug out from under you. It can take your predictable, happy life and turn it upside down.
Although life’s traumas are tremendous opportunities for growth, we don’t see them that way when they present themselves to us. When they appear our first inclination is to run and hide. Or bury it. Or numb it. We think we surely don’t have the strength to endure it. And yet truly the only way to lessen its grip on you is to not merely face it, but walk through it.
Those around you will want so much to soften the blow or offer words of wisdom and they will try; yet there is nothing they can do to change or alter the course for you. They may hold your hand or bolster you with a solid hug and tell you they will always be there. But it is a solo journey. And you know this in your heart. You alone must do the work put before you.
It is like a long dark tunnel that is pulling you in. You resist, your body literally turning away even as your spirit is leaning in. You peer into the tunnel and see utter darkness with no end in sight. Strong winds create an eerie howling that sounds almost human. You have a deep sense of foreboding in your belly. You wince and steel yourself, despite your urge to run. You take one last look around for help: your husband…your mom…your sister…your friend; but no one appears. You are scared. You’ve never gone through anything like this before in your life and you question why this is being asked of you when clearly you have no experience at it.
When you can put it off no longer, you take your first step in. You shield your eyes as you leave the bright sunlight behind and adjust them to the darkness all around you. You move tentatively forward, hands protectively out in front of you so you don’t fall.
Yet in no time at all you find yourself on the ground. It humbles you. You start to crawl on your hands and knees. Grief sneaks up from nowhere and you begin to cry. Although you try to calm yourself, you have no control over the sobs that are now heaving from your body.
Exhausted, you stop to rest and fall into a deep sleep. You have vivid dreams, replaying the events that have led you here only with more detail than you previously remembered.
You wake to the sounds of screaming; deep primal screams that alarm and concern you. As your mind lifts from the fog of sleep you discover the screams are coming from you. You writhe in pain. You shout and hurl angry words at the walls of the tunnel, indiscernible epithets of hatred spew from you. When there is nothing left to say, you resume your crawl along in silence. A knowing calmness takes over.
You were able to quiet your mind for awhile, but then it replays everything. The tears come again and sobs are racking your body. You exhaust yourself quickly and lay down to rest. You do not dream. When your eyes open there is a brief moment of reprieve — a split second that you have forgotten where you are. There is no pain, no emotion at all. Then in a wave that crashes your spirit and takes you down again, you remember. You carry on, although your strongest desire is to just lie there.
As you start to move again, everything repeats itself. The anger, the sobs, the draining of your energy; this happens repeatedly.
A faint light appears at the end of the tunnel. You pause, staring at it for a long time. You have begun to be comfortable in the tunnel. The darkness suits your mood. You are uncertain if you want to move forward, then you see your loved ones on the other side and you know you must.
As you walk out of the tunnel you are surprised at how bright the sun is shining. Instinctually you lift your head up, feeling the warmth on your face and remembering how purely you once enjoyed this. It is not the same now. Everything feels different. It dawns on you that it is you who are different.
You look around and see that everyone is acting normal and going about their business. You stare at them with awe and bitterness. How dare they be living their lives? Can’t they see that everything has changed? Your anger surfaces in a hot flash. Then your loved ones wrap their arms around you and gently pull you forward. You are beaten and battered and lean on their support. You can feel their love and it brings you comfort.
As you walk on, the deep knowing that you felt in the tunnel surfaces again. You realize that you still have much work to do. But now you can accept the kindness of others. They know too that you will require long periods of solitude and reflection.
One day you will look up and feel the sun on your face and tilt your chin towards it. You will take a deep breath and feel gratitude in your heart. That’s how you know you have come out the other side, when you can appreciate your life again. You have been cut wide open and have put yourself together again in a different, stronger way. Eventually you realize that you have a deeper perspective of the fragility of life, which only makes it all the richer. And, that you have become someone bigger than what you once were.
In the forward to Frank Ostaskeski’s beautiful book, The Five Invitations* is this quote by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.:
Chances are until you have experienced that one great loss, this will read to you as more ominous than catalytic. Like grief itself, these types of statements can’t fully be absorbed and understood until you experience them yourself.
We can get attached to who we think we are. We can be downright stubborn about it. Our identity seamlessly and completely intertwined with what we do. What we do becomes what we are. But what if what we do is taken away from us in the blink of an eye? Who are we then?
In the words of Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu: