PICKING UP THE PIECES
Did she make you cry?
Make you break down?
Shatter your illusions of love?
And is it over now, do you know how [to]
Pick up the pieces and go home?
- "Gold Dust Woman" by Stevie Nicks
Picture: In the Aftermath of Hurricane Irma
In my previous Wednesday Wisdom, I mentioned two essential life skills, the ability to stick to a job and the ability to change directions. This article focuses on a third: the ability, when tragedy strikes, to pick up the pieces and rebuild your life.
Here's a painful story we've all heard way too often, one that really hurts when it happens to someone we dearly love:
Boy and Girl fall in love and get married. Boy goes to medical school; Girl drops out of college to support the family and raise babies. Boy completes medical school, and they move to their dream job, dream home. Life is finally good . . . for a while . . . until . . . until Boy gets a wandering eye. He hooks up with Younger Woman. Boy and Girl divorce. Girl gets the children and is left to pick up the pieces with no college, no job.
I don't need to tell you that this life is not for sissies. Sooner or later, we all face major catastrophes, whether a marriage devastated by infidelity and divorce; the death of a loved one; a major illness; a home destroyed by a fire, tornado, or hurricane; the loss of employment; the failure of your business; the unraveling of a vital relationship; a family member entangled in addiction; or any of a dozen other disasters.
I once interviewed a couple whose oldest son had drowned in the prime of his young adulthood. A few years later, their oldest grandson, whom they were raising, was killed in a tragic accident. I asked them how they coped with the excruciating pain of this double blow. I was deeply moved by the wisdom of their answer.
"We looked at our lives and we recognized that we had a choice," they told me. "We could be bitter, or we could be better. We decided to be better." They studied the grieving process, learned how to relate their own pain to the pain of others, and became bereavement counselors. They now use their own experiences to help other families who have lost children and grandchildren.
So, when life sucker-punches us in the nose, we have to ask ourselves: will we be bitter or will we be better?
When we've taken a brutal blow, it's OK to staunch the bleeding and brush ourselves off. We can give ourselves permission to grieve for a season. We can allow ourselves the time to reorient ourselves to a newly-changed world. Then, we can gather our bearings and decide how we will make ourselves better - how we will learn and grow from this adversity.
In his masterful "Good Timber," Douglas Malloch explains how opposition, strife, hard work, and tough times not only make us better people but bring greater abundance in life and open the way to a richer, fuller future.
The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing.
The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began.
Good timber does not grow with ease,
The stronger wind, the stronger trees,
The further sky, the greater length,
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.
Where thickest lies the forest growth
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.
This is the common law of life.
Every setback holds within it the seeds of growth and the promise of a better tomorrow - IF we choose to see it that way. There is new strength over the horizon. There is a new dawn just beyond the darkness. The things we endure can make us wiser, stronger, more empathetic, and, ultimately and ironically more joyful. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psalms 30:5).