“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
~ Lao Tzu
I remember once, ten or so years ago, sitting in the carpark of a hospital. At the time my husband was working overseas, run ragged by the company who’d hired him. I was estranged from most of my family. The rest were living overseas or frail and in poor health. Our farm was in drought, and I was driving an hour from my city house each morning to feed out hay and check water before coming home again to start my day. My corporate deadlines were crazy. Life was crazy. But I couldn’t stop. There was no-one else. And I had bills to pay.
I was at the hospital that day because apart from being brutally tired all of the time I had problems with my speech. I was forgetting words. I could not read numbers. I woke with night sweats. Strange rashes came and went. My limbs tremored. When holding things my hands would sometimes forget to open, or open by themselves at the most inopportune times. I knew that there was something gravely wrong with me.
I sat in my car in the carpark of the Wesley Hospital, crying. I had just been to yet another doctor, hoping to finally have a diagnosis.
Instead, this esteemed diagnostician had said this:
“Well, there is definitely something wrong with you. I can see that it’s serious. But I have no idea what it is. Neither do my colleagues. You don’t tick enough of any of the boxes on the same page. It happens like this sometimes. We see something and we don’t know what it is. But you seem to be managing. People often cope with more than they think they can. So work within your limits. Seek help for symptoms you can’t manage. We can help with some things. You don’t need to live in pain. There are aids you can access to help with daily tasks. Be grateful for your life and try to find beauty in it. Don’t push beyond your limits and understand that even as your life gets smaller it can still be a good life.”
I was so angry and defeated in that moment. I held it together until I got to the car, but then the tears started and I couldn’t stop them.
Eventually I was howling.
Finally the woman who operated the toll gate came over and brought me a box of tissues. She offered to make me a cup of tea. She patted me on the shoulder. “I’m sorry, love,” she said. “Life can be a bitch, sometimes.”
My tears dried up. We laughed at that. “Yes, it can,” I said. I sat in her funny little toll booth and we drank sweet milky tea from the little plastic cups that stack on top of the old-fashioned kind of thermos flask. Eventually I drove home.
I was mad at that doctor for a very long time. I had really hoped that he would fix me. Or at least tell me what was wrong and give me some kind of pill, some kind of diet, some kind of hope. I didn’t want a smaller life. I wanted my old life back.
Instead, my life shrank smaller and smaller still. I’d look back on that day and see how strong and vibrant and capable I actually was back then. Back when I thought things were bad. Back before things became so much worse.
Even staying mad, as time went on I came to see that the doctor had given me something precious. He’d given me practical advice rather than empty promises. Mourning my old life stopped me from appreciating what was right in front of me. It stopped me loving myself. It stopped the flow of grace.
Life, at times, gets hard for all of us. All of us shall know limitation, or have loved ones whose worlds shrink. On any day our world might go pear-shaped.
Time has proven that doctor right. It’s amazing how quickly you adjust to a new set of circumstances. It never helps to fight your limitations because usually you only hurt yourself. Being in the moment, graciously (or pouting, angry and unhappy) still has sweetness. Life can get smaller and smaller and still be worth waking up for. Most importantly, being in the here-and-now, no matter how painful, is where you are empowered.
We can cope with so much. It’s only when we are tested that we find that out just how strong and wise and funny and awesome we really are.
Know that today I am holding you in my heart and sending you love. You’re stronger than you know. And life is breathtakingly beautiful, even the crappy bits.
When you see life as a glorious adventure, everything that happens to you becomes valuable.
Nicole <3 xx
PS: That doesn’t mean you won’t occasionally find yourself muttering ‘Well, this bit really sucks…’