Doing the Hard Things in Life

I listen to Public Radio a lot. One of my favorite shows is "The Moth Radio Hour." Each segment has a theme complete with real-life stories, told by the individual whose story it is. Sometimes the stories are humorous, other times poignant and full of meaning. No matter what is told, I have yet to find one that I didn't like. So, when I heard a man telling the story of the time someone broke into the house and robbed him at gunpoint, it was intriguing, and I knew I had to listen, especially when I heard the theme of the episode: Doing the Hard Things in Life. The story itself was amazing, but the way it shaped the man's life was more meaningful than I ever could have imagined. The story goes like this:

Daniel was staying at his mother's home, looking after her and helping out while she recovered from a delicate spinal fusion surgery. Imagine his shock when, walking into the living room one day he came face-to-face with an intruder who had broken into the house. The thief demanded money and Daniel complied,hoping that if he gave the robber what he wanted, he would leave. However, instead of leaving, he forced Daniel to his knees and jammed the cold barrel of a revolver against his head. Before the burglar had a chance to carry out his plan, however, Daniel's mother, who had heard the commotion, came out of her bedroom and walked down the hallway. The intruder's back was turned towards her, so he was not aware that she was approaching. Saying, "Excuse me," Daniel's mother crashed, with all her might, into the burglar from behind. Caught off guard and a bit rattled, the man wheeled around and threw her into the wall. The first thing Daniel thought of was the delicate surgery his mother had recently undergone, and he was horrified. As the burglar bolted out the door, Daniel instinctively ran to his mother. On the way over to her, he grabbed the phone and called 911. After making sure that his mother was OK, Daniel decided to go after the man, hurried out the door and jumped into his truck. Minutes later, tearing down the interstate doing 100 mph and passing everyone, he suddenly realized that he was totally on his own -- no phone, no weapon --- only his anger. Before he was able to catch up with the burglar he met the police. They explained to him that his 911 call came in right at a shift change, so instead of four cruisers on the road there were eight, which had allowed them to already have apprehend the suspect. Later that night when he went to bed, Daniel found himself staring at the ceiling, going back to that moment when the gunman told him to get on his knees. He felt sorry and ashamed of his inaction. He couldn't understand how he'd given up his life so effortlessly. The question that kept nagging him was: Why was he just kneeling on the floor, not struggling, just waiting for a stranger to kill him? When things like this happen, you are left with nagging questions about your behavior, people try to help and make you feel better. They say things like, "Everything happens for a reason." Daniel thought to himself, "I understand the the sentiment, I do. But I don't agree with it." Thinking more about it, he eventually concluded that what bothered him about that statement was that it sounded like there was some arcane justification for selflessness. That there's some cosmic fatalism at play. What he eventually realized was this: Yes, everything that happens has meaning, and it's our job as humans to give reason to it. We give meaning to the inscrutable. It is moments like he'd just experienced that not only altered Daniel's perspective, but that also shape and change others as well. They are moments in your life that you never forget. And that's the terrible beauty of the past -- you remember the good AND the bad.
                                      Story as told by Daniel Turpin

As grievers, in our own way and over our own issues, we have all been where Daniel was -- wondering why we did or didn't do something as it relates to the loved one we lost. And, I am willing to bet that sometime along the line as we sloshed our way through the cesspool of grief, some well-meaning soul has tried to "comfort" us with the phrase, "Everything happens for a reason." In her book, It's OK That You're Not Ok (Sounds True, Inc.), Megan Devine talks about the commonality of this phrase by those attempting to "comfort" a griever. While acknowledging that it is said with good intentions, she points out that it is heard by the grieving person as not being quite good enough and needing to learn a lesson. I have an entire "Wanna/Don't Wanna" journal entry. It goes like this: "I don't wanna be alone. I don't wanna have to work. I just wanna do what works for me. I don't wanna come home to an empty house. I don't wanna always have no one here to talk to. I don't wanna be a widow. I don't wanna live my life without Brian. I just wanna not be so sad." And, in the end, I don't wanna be told that "Everything happens for a reason." Sometimes, there is no reason. Things just happen. And when they do, we all have to learn to deal with them the best we can. In our way. In our own time. Author Cheryl Strayed says it best:

“It’s your life. The one you must make in the obliterated place that’s now your world, where everything you used to be is simultaneously erased and omnipresent . . . The obliterated place is equal parts destruction and creation. The obliterated place is pitch black and bright light. It is water and parched earth. It is mud and it is manna. The real work of deep grief is making a home there.”

Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things

So, keep on doing the hard stuff and don’t look back. As Fridtjof Nansen says: “The difficult is what takes a little time. The impossible is what takes a little more time.”

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