There's No Handbook For Life

There's No Handbook For Life There's No Handbook For Life

"I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only love."

-Mother Teresa

I've Been Thinking...

Something interesting happened to me the other day. Just after I had spent the better part of an hour talking about all the things I missed due to the pandemic, I stumbled upon an article talking about all the good things that people felt had happened to them during this time. It reminded me that perspective is everything.

The key is being able to hold the yin and yang. If I were writing a handbook for life (and I’m not), it would include a lot that no one told me about. It would talk about how life demands that you be good—really good—at juggling and balancing the paradoxes of life. You must if you want to be a survivor or a happy warrior.

Just when you think, “OK, I’ve got things figured out,” life throws you on the ground. Just when the country reopens and you think, “OK, maybe things are going to get better," the cases surge and the nation experiences its highest numbers to date. Just when you pick yourself up and dust yourself off from one of life’s curveballs, bam! You find yourself on your knees again, learning yet another life lesson.

Just when you thought your kids were going to go back to school, you are told that Zoom is their future. Just when you find yourself saying to God, “Thank you, I don’t need any more lessons on acceptance, forgiveness, letting go, or the fragility of life,” you receive another lesson out of nowhere. Just when you’ve made peace with the fact that you haven’t been able to see your parents, or host your best friend’s baby shower, or celebrate your own birthday because it’s unsafe to do so, you see pictures of crowds at Disney World and are left saying “what the heck…”

So, if I were writing a handbook for life (and again, I’m not), the introduction might start by saying that nothing is certain or permanent, so you better get good at accepting things and letting go. You better get good at loving and surviving heartbreak. You better get good at being both an involved parent and one that can step back and let things be. You better get good at knowing what makes you feel free. (And along those lines, don’t spend your hard-earned money on stuff. It just bogs you down. I was reminded of that this week as I started going through my storage units.)

You better also get good at accepting the light and the dark. Get good at accepting the contradictions. Get good at understanding your beautiful self. Get good at giving yourself away and holding onto the parts that no one gets. Get good at being open and also staying a mystery. Get comfortable with your body. Nourish it, nurture it, learn how to regard it as your sanctuary as opposed to your enemy. Acquaint yourself with that mind of yours. If you can, view it as your superpower while also understanding that it can cause you great struggle.

The rest of the handbook for life would probably just be empty pages. Why? Because nothing can prepare you for the moment you’re in now.

No handbook could have taught me how to get through this pandemic and the current reality we all are facing. No handbook could have ever told me how I would feel when I got fired early on in my career. No handbook ever told me I would survive a broken heart, a dashed dream, or aging in our modern times. No handbook ever taught me how to handle criticism on social media from total strangers.

Speaking of which, if you are looking for advice on how to handle verbal abuse, I urge you to go watch Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s bold and courageous statement this week from the floor of the House of Representatives. It, my friends, should become one of those speeches that is watched for years to come. It is a speech that should make it into every woman’s handbook moving forward. The congresswoman’s words were both vulnerable and strong. Fiery and quiet. Authentic and shocking. She spoke to older women who have experienced those kinds of words from men for years, as well as women her age and younger who have already experienced them a few times too many.

I’ve tried to raise my daughters to speak up for themselves in this same way. I don’t want them to accept abuse, and I sure as hell want them to be strong enough to call it out if it happens. It’s how I’ve raised my boys as well. I’ve taught them not to speak like that to a woman, or to anyone, actually. We can each make our homes just like the floor of the House. We can each rise up in our homes and call out someone’s abusive language or nature and declare that it’s not OK and won’t be tolerated.

After all, the Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s speech was an important reminder that verbal abuse isn’t just about the words that are spoken. It’s about the trauma that lasts a lifetime when it goes unchecked. She put everyone on notice. And while that may feel threatening or cause anxiety, it’s also critical to creating a more decent, honorable, civilized society. When you call out that kind of language or behavior in one room, you can call it out in another, and so it goes up the ladder.

Everything is in motion. Everything has the potential to change. Just when I found myself wondering whether the good ol' boys network would ever get taken down, I got to witness its dismantling in front of my very eyes. I admit that it made me smile. Just when I was certain that this president was never going to change his mind about masks, lo and behold, he did (for now). Just when I got my home organized and finally felt free to look forward, I opened the door to my storage units and plunged myself deep into my past. Just when I thought I could open my office and resume my Sunday dinners with friends, I heard the governor of California and the mayor of LA caution us against such gatherings. Now, our state leads the nation in COVID-19 cases. Ugh.

What I miss and what I’ve lost sits right alongside what I’ve noticed and what I’ve gained in this pandemic and in my life. It all depends on the hour and the day. Everything depends on your perspective. If I hadn’t stumbled on that article about what people have gained during the quarantine, then I might have spent the rest of that day focused on loss, which would have taken me down a dark hole.

Life is unpredictable. Life is indeed a mystery. All we can do is keep moving, keep reading, keep observing, keep laughing, keep listening, and keep looking. Look to the left and to the right. Stay open. Open your eyes, your heart, and your mind. Get good at knowing that life is going to ask you over and over again to get good at holding the paradoxes—both those things outside your control and those within you.

That, my friends, is what I wish were in the handbook of life. But even if one existed, I probably wouldn’t have believed what it said. Sometimes you simply have to love things and lose them before you learn to let them be.



PRAYER OF THE WEEK                                                            

Dear God, please let me embrace the unpredictability of life. All we can do is keep moving, keep reading, keep laughing, keep listening, and keep looking. All we can do is open our eyes, our hearts, and our minds. Amen.


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