When I was a kid playing Little League baseball, we kept score. Yes, that’s right, we actually kept a record of winners and losers. Sometimes my team won a nail-biter, 4-3. Sometimes, we got clobbered 11-0. And the results were posted in the newspaper! How’s that for humiliation? I didn’t like losing. But, at least I experienced the pain, the suffering. I wasn’t entitled to winning. I never got a trophy because I simply participated. Life was hard. It had to be.
During my senior year of high school, a classmate – a childhood friend died in a tragic car accident. I sat next to Ray in Computer class. One day, he was there. The next day, his chair was empty. Ray’s father was a deacon at our church. Children dying is not supposed to happen to religious families. Ray’s passing affected our entire town. I had never experienced a wake and funeral of that magnitude. I was sad, confused, and angry. I wasn’t insulated from suffering. Life was hard. It had to be.
I grew up in a small rural Connecticut town where we kept our doors unlocked. We walked to school. We went sledding or ice-skating for hours in the woods without parental supervision. Life was “safe.” When I went to college in the small city of Norfolk, Virginia, I experienced culture shock. Someone broke into my apartment through a bedroom window and stole my stuff. I was scared to death because I was still in the apartment! Later that year, I got “jumped” by a gang and beat up while walking with friends to a party. I wanted to transfer schools. I wanted be home where it was safe. However, I stayed in the city, where life was hard!
As a young professional, I endured the emotional uncertainty of 3 layoffs. I made it through each round. My stock options were going to fully vest in 3 months. I was going to be a millionaire. I was going to live on easy street. I got laid off in Round 4. My position was eliminated. I would never be a millionaire. I was devastated. The value of the options I did have left quickly dissapeared when the dot.com bubble burst. Life was painful. It had to be.
Pessimism versus Optimism? Glass 1/2 full versus Glass 1/2 empty? Type A personality versus Type B personality? My answer: It depends. There is no black and white in life. It’s all grey. Life is messy. It’s ugly and it’s complicated. It’s downright miserable at times and it can also be purely blissful.
Another childhood friend and neighbor, Bruce, should not have died in his early 40s, leaving a wife and 4 children behind. An 18 year old young man should not have died trying to save his father who also drowned. People get sick. People die. Recessions happen. People get laid off. People marry the wrong spouse. We have horrible jobs and horrible bosses. People hurt our feelings, we hurt others’ feelings. Tornados, Hurricanes, Tsunamis destroy towns. Pain is certain. As certain as death and taxes. And it’s damn uncomfortable!
However, experiencing pain is what makes us alive. It keeps us from living on cruise control. It shakes us up. Life tears us down so that we may repair, rebuild, and maybe reinvent ourselves. It tears us apart from some people but brings us closer to others. Pain is a valuable teacher. There is no easy street. Financially wealthy people can be emotionally poor. The homeless and hungry can feel the greatest love in the warmth of their only friend, a faithful dog. We all have our comforts and we all have our pain.
The key is not to surrender to the pain. Recognize it. Let it happen and live with it briefly. Then, vow to get rid of it. Change if you must, but don’t stop trying. Leave the pain behind. Keep going, keep pushing ahead. When you get through it, give thanks for the experience. Give thanks for the lesson. Give thanks that you made it through.
Be Kind. Be Thankful. Be Significant.