February 4, 2018

The Real Life



N E W  Y E A R ' S  E V E 
After a wonderful Christmas loaded with quiet times, good food, old movies and thoughtful gifts, my family welcomed the new year surrounded by friends and the frigid beauty of one of the most awe-inspiring sights in the country, Niagara Falls. On the last day of 2017, bundling up in layers of sweaters, we bravely walked along the ice-coated Horseshoes Falls while the temperatures were quickly dipping well below freezing. Nothing could ever compare to the fairy tale scene of pristine white snow enveloping everything in a fragile blanket, long crystal icicles hanging like stalactites on rocks and railings, and the colourless flow of rushing water descending swiftly into the river in a magical thick cloud of mist...
What a marvel it was! What an uplifting and hopeful celebration of the crossover from the old year to the new one we had!

J A N U A R Y 
And then came January with its agonizing unhurried pace. It was throwing bad news – one after another – into the lightless, cold first days of 2018. Little ups and huge downs – the new year has been a scary roller coaster. I have experienced some of the most terrifying and debilitating hours of my life when my beating heart was ripped from my seemingly soulless body and my anxious mind felt lost and deserted like a ghost town... There were mornings stuffed with pessimism, anger and resentment. Layers of inner pain and uncertainty, so uncomfortable, challenging and deep, paralyzed the core of my being. You thought you had already grown wise, strong and fearless, but when it came to the well being of loved ones, life took you by surprise and threw you unprepared, emotionally raw and unarmored into the rough wave of the latest ferocious storm (or at least it was the way it seemed at the beginning).

T H E  R E A L I T Y
And then the basic truth has begun to appear from within. L i f e  i s  h a r d. Life is not always fair. Life involves a certain amount of hardship and suffering.  Life does not always work the way we would like it to and often we have no control over many things that happen to us. However, when hard times hit, we have an important choice to make – either let the situation define us, let it destroy us or let it strengthen us. What I know for sure is that one of the main differences between those who live their lives to their fullest potential and those who let life happen to them can be found in their choice of how to handle adversity: whether they allow themselves to be crushed, to give up, and to feel sorry for themselves or choose acceptance, face the fear, look for a source of strength within them (it is always there), and turn the negative experience into a positive one as a means of transformation and growth.      
If there is one single lesson I would like our son to learn from his parents, it would be in the words of the wise Eppie Ledere, better known by the pen name Ann Lander; something I read years ago, wrote it down on paper and hung it on the refrigerator for encouragement and a clear-eyed perspective: 
"If I were asked to give what I consider the single most useful bit of advice for all humanity it would be this: Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life and when it comes, hold your head high, look it squarely in the eye, and say, "I will be bigger than you. You cannot defeat me."  
(Later I found that she also said: "I would rather have my column on a thousand refrigerator doors than win a Pulitzer." Isn't it the most refreshing perspective on success?!)

T R A N S F O R M A T I O N
Once we accept the fact that life can be "wild, hard and sweet" as well as "wild, hard and cruel', we begin to grow by recognizing that every difficulty is also an opportunity and a learning experience. It is then that we dig down and discover what we are made of. It is then that we find a means to transform negative events into positive ones, wounds into wisdom. In her book "Broken Open", Elizabeth Lesser is convinced that "Suffering and crisis transform us, humble us, and bring out what matters most to us."
And just like that, my word for 2018 came to me. During a month of convoluted and unstructured thoughts on a new year, a challenging month with snow and lots of cold (figuratively and literally), this word has been coming back to me.
Transformation. 
It does not matter what kind of experience we have had, it is of no consequence. What kind of transformation the experience brings is what matters in life. We cannot destroy anything, dissolve it, or make it disappear. We can only transform it.
Resistance into Acceptance. 
Negative thoughts into Positive Affirmations.
Worries into Present Moments. 
Pain into Inner Search. 
Fear into Actions. 
Tension into Listening. 
Overgeneralized Statements into Concrete Statements. 
Emotional Reasoning into Rational Responses.
Prejudice into Knowledge.
Complaining into Gratitude.
"I used to see a butterfly in my mind's eye every time I hear the word transformation," wrote Cheryl Strayed in her book "Brave Enough". I did it too, Cheryl. I did it, too. "But life has schooled me", she continued. "Transformation isn't a butterfly. It's the thing before you get to be a pretty bug flying away. It's huddling in the dark cocoon and then pushing your way out. It's the messy work of  making sense of your fortunes and misfortunes, desires and doubts, hang-ups and sorrows, actions and accidents, mistakes and successes, so you can go on and become the person you must next become." 

F L O W
I asked myself out loud:
Sylvia, will you be broken down and defeated, or broken open and transformed? 

F E B R U A R Y
I found my body the other day on one of the swings in the empty park. I was pushing it hard forwards and backwards through the winter air. The old snow was glistering while the timid sun was trying to rip the clouds off. Pumping my legs, I was gaining height and the world was spinning around me...
Forward – breathing in. Back – breathing out. I leaned my head back and then I remembered how fortunate I was to be breathing... what a richness to my life my family and friends were... how strong my faith in the goodness of life was...
This shall pass.
Everything passes.
Life is hard, but life is also g l o r i o u s. Sometimes we feel that we are barely pulling ourselves forward through a dark tiny tunnel and the light at the end seems unreachable. Nevertheless, we do come out the other side drained, yet transformed to better daughters, better sons, better mothers, better partners, better friends, better Humans... and before we know it, we will have slid over this rough wave and we will ride again onto the next one.


(Chestnut Bundt Cake with Chocolate Chunks, recipe by the inspiring Mimi Thorisson of Manger)

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