One year ago today was the worst day of my life. You are all familiar with the story–lost my job, found out my mom had advanced breast cancer. Great day, that. Since then, the earth has continued to spin around the sun, my mom kicked cancer’s ass, I was diagnosed with a different kind of cancer (seriously), had that treated (there was and continues to be some additional ass-kicking), and we’re both still standing.
And so, rather than mourn this date, I’m going to celebrate it. I’m going to celebrate it in the best way I know: with a list-post featuring all of the things adversity has taught me, described in exquisite detail. Settle in…
If karma is a bitch, so are you
Despite having once named a cat Karma (I am not making this up), I no longer believe in the concept. Not even a little bit. Here’s why:
The thing people seem to fail to realize about karma is that it works both ways. So if something bad happens to someone who has wronged you and you’re all like ‘karma is a bitch’, what does that mean when something bad happens to you? Seriously. Think about that for a moment. Did you do something to deserve all of the bad shit that’s happened in your life? I doubt it. I sure as hell know that I didn’t.
And further, what does clinging to the idea of karma do for you, exactly? Here’s a little personal story which should prove that it does absolutely nothing:
Last spring, a few short weeks after the worst day of my life, I had a little breakdown. So I did what any normal, sane person would do: I spent a week in the woods of New England at a spiritual retreat learning about loving kindness meditation (among other equally crunchy things). As you now know that I’m someone who actually did once name her cat Karma, this really should not surprise you. Anyway–my big takeaway lesson from that experience was this realization:
There’s not a limited amount of joy in the world.
As such, when someone who has wronged you experiences good fortune, that’s ok. Because their happiness has absolutely nothing to do with your own. This also means that when that same person experiences bad fortune, that’s not something to be celebrated. Because their pain has absolutely nothing to do with your own. The suffering of your enemy will, in almost every case, affect your own prosperity not at all. So why rejoice in it?
Sorry, Karma the cat. You were poorly-named. But hey, it could have been worse. You could have been your sister, Cashew. Though I suppose I do still believe in cashews.
Tough love is bullshit
The first thing that will happen as soon as something terrible happens to you is this: people will start giving you advice. I’m convinced that all of this advice is well-meaning. I am also convinced that most of this advice is total and utter crap. And the absolute worst kind of well-meaning advice is tough love advice.
Let me be as clear as I can be right now: toughness and love do not go together. To quote the goddamn bible (and the most overused wedding reading of all time): Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast. It is not proud. It does not dishonor others.
Tough love is none of these things. Tough love is urgent. Do this now, it pleads. If you don’t, you’ll be sorry! Tough love is not kind. In fact, most tough love sentiments involve some form of the phrase ‘I’m not trying to be mean, but’. Tough love most definitely boasts and is prideful; I did this and so can you, it proclaims. And tough love absolutely dishonors others. It dishonors others’ experiences and feelings and it pays no credit to the real experience of pain.
Tough love is bullshit. Period. Full stop.
If you are reading this and you know me personally (or virtually) and are thinking that I’m talking about you, you are probably right. There’s a lot of you. But it’s ok, because I know that you did mean well. Your only fault was viewing life through the lens of your own experience and failing to acknowledge that said lens exists. Most people exist in this state, myself included. So when most people see someone in pain, they think back over what worked in their life, and they offer well-meaning advice along similar lines. I plan to try to avoid doing this in the future, but I’m certain I will struggle with it. It’s ok that you do, too.
There are different kinds of strong
When my work world was taken away from me, I felt that I lost all of my power. How could I continue to be strong, kick-ass hard-working traveler girl if I had no ass to kick, nowhere to travel, nothing to be strong about? Plenty of ways, it seems.
When is getting out of bed an act of strength? When you legitimately want to curl up and cease to exist.
When is choosing to stay un/self employed an act of strength? When you know that to do anything else would crush your soul, sap your energy, and make life generally sucky. So you don’t do anything else.
When is going to Disney World an act of strength? When you do it less than three weeks after finishing a brutal round of chemo, like my mom did this past October.
When is drafting a post like this an act of strength? When you do it on your phone at 4am, from your hospital bed, less than a week after one of the most major surgeries one can have. When you know that hitting publish will piss off a lot of people, but will also inspire a lot more, so you do it anyway.
My strength is drafting, writing, hitting send, pressing publish. My strength is in sharing my stories, so that those who choose to stay quiet know that they are not alone. The best thing about this kind of strength is that barring an end-times scenario where the internet (and paper and ink) cease to exist, no one can ever take it away from me. Which brings me to my final lesson:
The most important thing in life is finding something no one can take away
I’ve lost so much in this past year. I’ve lost a career. I’ve lost the innocence that comes with believing that everything’s always going to be ok. I’ve lost physical parts of my mother. One week ago today, I lost physical parts of myself (many of them). If I didn’t have this–hands on keyboard, sharing of stories, connecting with others across the country and world–I don’t know what I would do. I am beyond grateful for it.
Find your something.