Photo by aaron13251
My youngest daughter once said, “I wish I could be a character in a book. Things always happen to characters in books.”
I know that feeling—the numbing claustrophobia of a life that’s typical and predictable. It’s neither here nor there, it just is. I suspect this is why people spend so much time planning vacations, shopping for new shoes and rearranging their furniture—they’re all sorry substitutes for something real happening, that alters our lives in fundamental ways.
I’m pretty sure it’s those fundamental, never-again-the-same experiences my daughter loves to read about. The fictional characters she loves are indelibly altered by whatever adventure, mystery, or hardship they endure. She wasn’t talking about a little excitement to spice up the afternoon—she was referring to characters who are orphaned, battling evil, or living in hiding.
Most life-changing moments come with plenty of pain
Of course, my daughter is young. She hasn’t yet learned the very grown-up phrase “Be careful what you wish for.” As it turns out, most of the events that really shake up our lives aren’t exciting in a fun way. They tend to be scary, exhausting and full of uncertainties. They don’t come with a guidebook, or even the promise of a clear conclusion. I got a divorce. My husband got laid off. My father-in-law fought cancer. Those are the things that tend to happen—to shake us out of our predictable existences and cause us to rethink everything about who we are and what kind of life we’re living.
Lately I’ve been realizing that although we would never want to be in the middle of those experiences again, we also wouldn’t want to erase them from our stories. In other words, they were important—critical even—in making us the people we are today.
It’s a funny line to walk, when you think about it. As I was writing my post about “happy talk” surrounding divorce, I realized it’s somewhat contradictory to say “divorce is bad—I would never wish it on anyone” while also saying “my divorce ended up being good—there are things I wish had happened differently, but in the end I wouldn’t exchange that experience.”
Would you go through it again?
This morning I ran across a Wired article that suggests depression helps us think better, by forcing us to ruminate on our predicaments rather than gloss over them. I had to laugh—not at the concept, but at the thought of how outraged some people might be about this level of “happy talk:” Yay, I’m depressed! Now I can think better!
I tweeted a link to the article, adding “talk about a silver lining,” and got several responses, including this from @hopefulleigh: “Very interesting. I see the point but don’t think I’d want to wade through depression again for that kind of silver lining.”
What about me? I wondered. Would I want to ‘wade through depression’ again, in order to reach this more compassionate, reflective, whole version of me? Would I want to go through divorce again, in order to find a passage to this better life and better love?
You might be thinking none of this matters—it’s neither here nor there, because those things did in fact happen and now my only task is to make the most of them and learn what I can as I move forward.
But maybe it does matter. Maybe the way we think about these situations changes the way we react when we find ourselves in the next set of unhappy circumstances. Maybe it changes the way we value what we’ve learned, and how far we’ve come. Maybe it changes how we react and reach out to other people who are going through a hard time. Maybe it helps cultivate hope. Or maybe my experience with depression has just caused me to over-think all of this. :)