“Experience is a brutal teacher, but you learn. By god, you learn.” -C.S. Lewis.
This year, when adversities come your way — and they will — remember that quote.
That’s the one piece of knowledge that has gotten me through every experience in my life.
I’m not a self-help guru. I’m not one of these preachers of positivity and “yay, MANTRA!” people. They have their place, sure, but it’s just not my bag. I’ve been through too fucking much to just think you can smile every morning and it makes it better. There’s some degree of control you have over what you go through, absolutely, but there are times when just surviving that thing is more important than being all “I’m a Believer!” about it. Sometimes just surviving is the greatest thing you’ll accomplish.
Because, sooner or later, it stops being about survival, and then it becomes about journey and technique. How you do it, where you go. Then it’s a choice.
The only thing you can choose to do from the outset, though, is to remind yourself that 20, 30, 50, 70 years is a long damn time, and the experiences can be more than you’ll ever imagine in those times, and you can suffer your way through them or you can learn your way through them. THAT is a choice.
Let’s face it, every time I think, “No, that’s the worst thing I’ll ever experience” or “That’s the last time I ever make that mistake”, I’m wrong. I trump it. One, I’m human. Two, my capacity is infinite. So is yours. I know, now, too, that adversity’s capacity is infinite. Life is hard. It’s really hard.
I marvel over life’s ability to be so cruel yet beautiful to each of us. Endlessly so. It’s like that passage from the English Patient in which the Count says, “Every night I cut out my heart, but in the morning it was full again.”
Just when you think you have nothing, if you look closer, you probably have everything worth having. Then you can close your eyes and remember what people in Port-au-Prince have this week, and the daunting futures they have ahead of them, and their refusal to lie down and die — some hanging on for a week under rubble. Remember what true loss and overwhelming odds are as you go forth, hold that image somewhere, and remember it when you think YOU can’t go on. Because THEY could.
Adversity is how each of us learns. It’s how we’re given the tools to reach our best. It’s how we prove to ourselves which group we belong to when Darwin wrote of the “survival of the fittest”.
I know that more shit will rain down on me before my life ends, hell, probably even before my week ends. But so what? The more it does, the more I enjoy Little Moments of Good, and I realize how much I enjoy the simplicity of life — a surprise sunny afternoon, the right night with a bottle of wine, sleeping in with a clean house, dinner at a friend’s, a spontaneous encounter with someone that makes my day, literally stopping to smell a flower, a small stroke of good fortune, unexpected kindness, happening onto good music when out in the world, that point of the bike ride where I’m all loosened up and just flying over land, a scooter ride on a warm April day, shelter from a blustery winter storm, or even just two minutes standing in my slippers on my balcony as I watch a red sunrise spill over the land.
Life doesn’t need to be big and perfect to be great. It doesn’t need to be in a four-star hotel or Zagat-rated restaurant. It’s not about that shit. Life doesn’t even need to be easy, man. It doesn’t have to be problem-free to be great.
It just needs you to look past your bullshit long enough to remember that, no matter how tough or how endlessly frustrating life seems, in the middle of all that you can find 2, 5, 12 minutes to change the landscape of any given day. It’s your choice to find something worth admiring, experiencing, tasting, or remembering on any given day. You own that ability to give value to those things that you come across. If you choose to see life as a series of routines and obligations, well, it will be.
Eventually you learn that adversity and experience are actually the whole of life. They are what life is about. And EVERYONE has them. EVERYONE faces hardship. Some feel it more than others, some live deeper and more entrenched lives than others, and some take bigger risks and get hurt far more as a result than others. But, at some base level, most of us can identify with each others’ pains.
Our pains aren’t what make us unique.
Our capacity to enjoy life in the face of them is what does.*
*Me, I’m better than I used to be at it. And getting better still. It’s a life challenge, though, isn’t it? And it doesn’t need to be won in the first half.