Ottawa went from winter to summer in one fell swoop, which makes no sense at all. Suddenly, overnight, the trees leafed out, and the tulips were in bloom. Furthermore, the temperature is a high of 29 Celsius, which is 84.2 F and the next two days are 31C (87.8 F) This feels like summer to me. I suspect only Canadians love to talk this much about the weather.
There are always things that don’t make sense in our lives. Life is not fair. We can do everything right and still get cancer. We can be fit, get a clean bill of health, and end up at the Heart Institute three months later. Tragedy strikes every day: accidents, bankruptcies, loss of all kinds, early death, intractable mind/body illnesses. What about natural disasters? Not to mention wars. Some things are intrinsically senseless.
And the inconveniences: the car won’t start; a flat tire; internet down; misunderstandings; a broken foot; a missed appointment; a wrong word. and of course the rule of three breakdowns (first the fridge; next the dishwasher, and finally the dryer, one following closely on the heels of the other.)
Yet, here is my truth: every morning when I wake up I am beyond grateful to get another day. I don’t fear for my life, personal safety, or going hungry. And I have many good things and wonderful people to see and be in touch with. Still, in spite of my gratitude, I, like you, need to deal with my own share of problems both large and small. They are my (you have yours) specific problems we try to make sense of. How did I end up in this particular situation, we might ask? We can compare and all we do is find people worse off and better off than ourselves. But our problems remain and are sometimes accompanied by cognitive dissonance – the flabbergasting reality that X has happened to me. Unbelievable.
The making sense out of X often goes unanswered. What we learn whether we like it or not is that we are not in control of our lives. Things happen. We absolutely can take preventative measures to reduce negative impacts and increase the favourable ones. But if you have lived awhile you know there are no guarantees. Life can change in a moment. Plans don’t always work in the end. Anything can happen to anyone at any time.
We know this when we look around at others. It’s harder to accept when it happens to us.
X, however, is a call to action, whether it makes sense or not, whether we like it or not, and whether we consider it fair. There is usually something we need to learn, do, put in place, stop, start or continue. By focusing our attention on the what if’s and the why me’s and the unfairness of it all we simply increase our suffering and spend our limited energy on what we can’t do anything about.
As I was musing about these things a few days ago, sitting under a blue sky and looking up into the fresh, newly minted leaves on an ancient tree, I had every reason to be confident and hopeful. My life’s experience is proof enough that I have weathered many storms, just like you. We do not have to throw up our arms in despair when something doesn’t make sense. If nothing else we know that we can survive and our ancestors before us did survive adversity or we would not be here.
Coincidentally, I also got to listen to an interview with Dr David Sinclair, professor in the Dept of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, author of Lifespan. I found him totally engaging and fascinating even though I am personally not interested in living for 150 years. (For one thing, I would not be able to afford it.) Nevertheless, I liked him and was keen to learn more about his research on adversity as it pertains to aging, illness, and health throughout all stages of life.
“There’s no way to be successful without massive amounts of adversity, criticisms, failures, and mistakes,” claims David. Raised by his grandmother, who knew that life was unfair, yet encouraged him to make the world a better place. Grit; generosity, gratitude, and kindness while shooting for your goals and achieving them. Suffering many setbacks, criticisms, and failures during his career, he was listed in Time Magazine as one of The 100 Most Influential People in the World. And again in 2018 as one of The Top 50 most important people in health care. (learned this from an interview with adversityadvantage.com)
Setbacks never stop.
Plans can go awry. Interruptions and disappointments happen and yet we never get to give up. The truth is, along with all the awfulness that can happen we can cultivate a practice of expanding our awareness to look for the good. The things that work; beauty; truth; joyful moments; loving people. One reason for having hobbies and going outside in nature is so we can lose ourselves in the fun and satisfaction of making something or being awestruck by the natural world. Just for the joy of it. Not for pay or prestige or reward of any kind. Just to enjoy. It fills us up.
Today, for a few moments I lost myself in the sights, sounds, and smells of our verdant landscape. We can consciously remember highlights from our own history where we were successful and things worked out. And times, when it seemed like the world was crashing down, and it was, but later on new doors opened and we entered a wonderful chapter we hadn’t even imagined. Remember that golden thread that is stitched through our days. It ultimately creates a tapestry and makes meaning from all the strands and frayed threads. It is a gift to take the time to recall those people who made a difference in our lives. Reviewing our personal triumphs where we stretched ourselves, struggled with adversity, and achieved our goals can give us a sense of meaning and coherence, no matter what else is happening.
There comes a time when it all makes sense: things do work out and we can step back and know why we are here. Our precious lives. “The full catastrophe” as Zorbra says. Let’s continue to respond to life with YES!
1:) The tulip festival begins this weekend celebrating its Platinum Jubilee marking the 70th anniversary with one million plus blooms of gorgeous colours and varieties. This festival began thanks to the Royal Family of the Netherlands who took refuge in Canada during the Second World War, and her Royal Highness, Princess Margaret was born here in 1943. Two years later Canadian troops liberated the Netherlands and in gratitude, the Dutch government has sent a gift of tulip bulbs every year since 1945.
2:) Gratitude is the capacity to stare doubt, loss, chaos and despair right in the eye and say, ‘I am still here.’ Diana Butler Bass
3:) Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. I warmly send all my best wishes to you. See you next week. As always, Trudy