“Don’t pull out the difficult pages of your story, let them be part of the story” – Mike Foster
I heard Mike say this at the Storyline Conference in 2014. I even quoted it in a blog post I wrote about the conference.
It’s the idea that suffering is only suffering without context, and that the hard parts aren’t parts to be avoided. In fact, they are reality and an important part of the story.
This was a whole new way of looking at suffering for me. I had always tried my hardest to avoid suffering, to pick the path with the fewest obstacles. But it made sense – a story without challenges or difficulties is a boring story.
So I thought I was ready.
I had a picture in my mind of what it’d look like the next time I turned to a difficult page in my story – a sad part of the story. I would probably cry a lot more (I’ve never been a big crier) and I wouldn’t distract myself when sad things happened. I’d let myself sit in the sadness and eventually, doing so would make me a stronger person.
Well it turns out, that’s not really a response you can turn on once you “decide” that’s how you’d like to handle the hard stuff.
2015 was full of hard stuff. There were so many heartaches in the lives of so many people that I love.
2015 has been made up of flashes of sad moments.
Sitting in silence at my aunt’s house with our family, only hours after she died. Surrounded by reminders that she was just here – her water glass, her purse in the entryway, even wondering if the egg carton in the garbage was the last thing she put in there.
Holding a sobbing mother while we stood next to the open casket of her 13 year-old daughter. Telling her how much I adored her daughter, how special her daughter was, while she gripped me tighter and shook harder.
Crouching in a hospital elevator bay while a dear friend told us about her cancer diagnosis. “When I get over the shock of this,” she said through tears, “I’m going to be so angry.”
Standing with one of my best friends while a room full of people buzzed in the background. Her hand lovingly stroked the tiniest casket I’d ever seen. She’d now have to figure out how to do life without her newborn baby girl.
Gathering with hundreds of people on a cold fall night at a vigil to honour the three children and father of my coworker, who were killed by a drunk driver.
Through all of these and more, I didn’t sit in the sadness like I envisioned I would. I barely cried and I have definitely distracted myself. I’ve gone into action-mode in each scenario, looking for practical things to do. I’ve also spent a lot of time watching TV and scrolling through Facebook to avoid thinking or feeling too hard. And even when I try to embrace the sad stuff, I just can’t. It’s like there’s a “do not enter” sign on my heart that the sad stuff is taking seriously.
I guess I’m learning this is a process. That just because you understand the importance of facing and grieving the sad stuff, doesn’t mean you know how to do it. Theory and practice are different things. I’m working on it.
But I’m also wondering if maybe keeping the difficult pages in my story looks different than I envisioned back in 2014.
I thought it would look like a puddly mess of tears, but maybe it simply looks like showing up.
Even when it’s awkward, even when I want to find any excuse not to be there, even when the person I’m sitting with is scared or in the midst of the saddest part of their life. Maybe, at this point in my life, the difficult pages look like admitting I have no idea how to handle this, but I’m here in the messiness and I’ll stay here as long as needed.