A Spring in Our Steps from the Daggers in Our Hearts
I had a spring in my step this morning that had been absent for so long that it took me a moment to recognize that light, blissful feeling I felt.
As I walked down our long driveway to pick up my copy of the Sunday New York Times, I literally took in the smell of the cherry blossom petals that lined my path as I marveled with them with my eyes. The afternoon before it was raining outside. That rain was just as responsible for petals on my path as the wind that was still blowing. As the rain came down the day before, I was 48 miles to the east, at a funeral only a few blocks from the Potomac River.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "We do not live an equal life, but one of contrasts and
patchwork; now a little joy; then a sorrow; now a sin; then a generous brave action."
Life is a journey in contrasts.
Just like my weekend.
A few hours after taking in the beauty of my driveway, I was at our local grocery store. As I rounded the corner into the dairy aisle, I noticed a familiar face. It was one of my clients. He did not see me, but I could see that he was beaming as he unpacked dairy products. There is never really such a thing as a former client. They often drift away, and, then drift back, and then drift away again. When they are drifting away from me, I often wonder what has happened to them. Are they well? Are they struggling? Will I see them again?
When I first met this client several years ago, he was struggling with anxiety that was so bad that he would often have panic attacks that would lead him to lock up so much that he often would not be able to get out of his car. More than once, we had sessions with me standing outside the passenger side window. We made progress. Eventually, most our sessions were in my office.
He had drifted a way some time ago. But now I was, pleasantly, getting to see where he was in life.
Carrying the glow from the beginning of my morning, I walked up and said hello. We had a wonderful conversation about the progress he has made and we talked about his journey. After we talked, I bought my groceries and grabbed some pink tulips and white carnations.
As I walked out of the store, our encounter made me think of my client who worked less than a minute away at a restaurant. It made me think about a woman who was in the support group that I facilitated who managed the bookstore that was next door. I did not have far to go to see the good in life -- the positive impact I have had on lives.
I also did not have to go far to find the bad. I only need to look into one of the many books on my shelf or into my own mind.
All I had to do was drift away to 14 years before, when I was in a much bigger town, New York City, where I did not have to look far to see people staring at me for a much less noble reason than helping their lives. Some of these people were regular New Yorkers. Some of these people were former colleagues.
I have been accused of dwelling too much on my mistakes. I am sure some people find it depressing. In many ways, it is human nature, to look back. I find it refreshing to throw a lingering glance over my shoulder -- not just to reflect on how different things are, but to find new ways to grow, like those cherry trees in our yard or the tulips in our kitchen window. Growth can be painful but it can result in a beautiful product.
To be sure, if any man or woman gazes too long at the pain we've caused, at the devastation we have wrought, it will burn their eyes. They will see a distorted shelf in the mirror, one they hardly recognize. Reflection should come in small doses, perhaps ones much smaller than the ones I take. But I have always been an addict. I have always taken in as much as I can. I suck in that something that comes from those smoldering embers.
Good can come from a bad experience. Of that, there is no question.
In my case, through adversity, I gained opportunity. The two moments -- the day with the cherry blossoms and those walks on the streets of New York -- are inexorably, inextricably linked. Without the first there would not have been the second. If I had not made mistakes, if an illness had not overtaken my mind, if I had not been a sufferer, I would have never had the chance to give back.
Good coming from bad, does not ease the pain of those who have been hurt by your actions. It does not make their suffering any less. It does not ease their pain. It does not provide absolution. But, as the man who went by Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, once wrote about service to others, "This is our principle aim and the main reason for our existence."
Sometimes you have to do some bad things to get to a good place.
Sometimes we make the depature but never arrive.
The funeral I was at was for a 48-year-old woman who had suffered from alcoholism. I did not know her well. I had only met her once, in fact. I did, however, know her 24-year-old daughter.
I went to the funeral for one reason. The daughter had done so much to help her mother. She had tried to help with encouragement, with advocacy and love. As someone who has walked into her mother's shoes, I came to tell her one truth that A.A. teaches us -- that her mother did the best she could with what she had. After the service, as I held her in the receiving line, I said the daughter's name and whispered those words. "She did the best she could," I said, "with what she had."
No one I know is so lucky as to not suffer from something. By the Grace of God, or whichever higher power you subscribe to, some of us are granted the tools to save our own lives. If we are even more lucky, we have get the opportunity to turn that bad into good, to bring our pain and suffering to life in a positive way that breathes air into another soul that is gasping. We have the opportunity to be of service.
My friend's mother will never have that chance. But her daughter will have the opportunity to turn calamity into opportunity, to transform misery in to the easing of the pain of others.
The daughter has long wanted to be a physician. I have never been convinced that was her path. But I have no doubt that she will take this opportunity to heal others.
I also have no doubt that someday she will walk down a long driveway, smelling flower petals and thinking about what good can come from the throes of adversity. Even if that adversity still brings tears to her eyes.