It seems to me that as I age, everyone is given the opportunity to face personal challenges. These come in all forms. Some seem to strike us from out of the blue yonder. Others may be the result of risks we knowingly took. Some reveal in retrospect that we set the stage to have to confront them down the road.
It seems also these challenges mostly relate to love. The loss of someone we love, or the “threat” of that loss; the loss of our former capacity to do something we loved; the expectations we envisioned connected to a love.
There’s the old adage: we don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone. At my age, among my peers, the challenges are often health related. Our bodies wear, and the physical aspects of our abilities changes. Our hearts also keep yearning, consciously or not, to love and be loved. We live in a culture that promotes overlooking the “now” in favor of reminiscing about the past or “greener grass” to come. So much of this seem a misunderstanding what’s real and permanent and forever within us.
We all are immersed for some amount of time in the crucibles of life. Much seems determined by how we respond to the inevitable moments in these uncharted (and usually unwanted) waters. Being able to consider it doesn’t make me immune—I’m sure I resist changes as much as anyone. At times I feel very fortunate; I have friends who seem to have been given far heavier loads. But I’m hesitant to compare my challenges to others. We never really know the unspoken, unseen challenges with which others may be dealing. Nor the degree to which our lives affect and impact others. Everything is in the context of all else happening in one’s life. How can we begin to quantify another’s challenges, especially if we are all interconnected? It seems a waste of energy.
Still, I’m capable of pettiness—getting frustrated when the person in the car at the light in front of me seems unaware the red has changed to green. Many of us have been near someone pouring out energy over a sports team’s loss, or a neighbor’s dog barking while another in the very same group has a loved one with a terminal illness. I struggle to cultivate, retain and sustain an aware, objective perspective.
Some of my friends have been tossed into the transformative crucible of life again and again. I’m unsure how I would handle what they have, much less endure it. Yet, they do. As I type this several come to mind. Nearly always their lives have been changed, sometimes in ways that may tug at our heart. The incredible thing is, they haven’t just survived.
Each of them is more resilient, and further, shines. It’s almost as if, consciously or not, their passage through the crucible has burnt away the lesser things. They seem less troubled by many of the distractions our culture is so keen to emphasize, in a way their being has been refocused. One can sense it in the tone of their voice, in how they listen more fully, and speak about and attend to others.
Ironically, while there’s an undeniable toughness in getting through hell, it also can create a certain tenderness, a deeper understanding of what’s significant. Despite the heaviness of what they’ve been through they now embody a lightness. There’s often a soft but vital glow in their eyes that only lightly veils a deep understanding. The transforming crucible of life seems similar to and interwoven with grief. Both require unasked for changes, yet offer us an opportunity to become more acutely sensitive to others, to live with a deeper sense of compassion, and to appreciate the preciousness of now.