I confess that I’m a cock-eyed optimist. The way in which I view and live my life may, to some, be a mish-mash of cute aphorisms. Yes, I do seem to look for the silver lining in all things. I believe the “sun will come out tomorrow” as little orphan Annie sings in theater production of the same name. And why is that? Because I know beyond a doubt that much of what happens to us and our loved ones are blessings in disguise.
Like you, my life has had its share of ups and downs, personal pain, even trauma. Things happened I never dreamed would. The point, it seems to me, is not to commiserate with one another over the suffering we may have experienced, but to rise above the anguish, and make something meaningful of it for our lives.
Unfortunately, sometimes we can’t see beyond what our eyes and ears perceive. The shock and awe of what we’ve experienced blinds us to any inner wisdom that might emerge. It takes time for the ashes of disruption to settle so we can see more clearly what is left in the aftermath; time to allow healing to occur; opportunity to lift us up so we can see the situation from a higher perspective.
Twenty-six years ago this month (I was twenty-five at the time), I suffered my first great loss. I was pregnant for the first time and overjoyed at the idea of becoming a mother. Within weeks I knew something was very wrong. Physically I felt horrible (beyond the normal morning sickness that was to be expected) in ways that I can’t quite describe. My abdomen grew large very fast and my doctor suspected that something was amiss. Sure enough, an ultrasound revealed no fetal heartbeat and the presence of a rare hormonal disorder, which disallowed the baby’s growth and accelerated placental growth. Almost four months into the pregnancy, my ecstasy died along with my dreams of becoming a mother. I was devastated.
But as if that were not enough, the condition persisted in my non-pregnant condition. Come to find out, there was no cure, no way to make my hormones go back to their pre-pregnant state except through one dramatic course of treatment—chemotherapy. It was the only thing they knew that worked. Talk about shock and awe! All I’d wanted was to walk out of the hospital with a baby in my arms. What I was told was that I would be checking in and out of the hospital for the next four months to have extensive chemotherapy.
They were the most hellish four months of my life. I will never forget the sensations that dominated those days: loneliness paired with grief, hair loss and mouth ulcerations, nausea and exhaustion beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. And, yet, to this day, I am amazed at the blessings which continue to reveal themselves as a result of this chapter of my life.
Some of the blessings are quite obvious: True appreciation for other babies when they came along, gratitude for good health, thankfulness for loving friends and family, and just general zest for life. Others seem synchronistic and fated. Who would have known that years later I would offer workshops and write books for women who were on profound healing journeys? Who could have predicted that many of those women would be cancer patients? How else could I have been able to understand on a very deep level their concerns, as well as the debilitating side effects from treatment if I had not walked a short distance in their shoes? When my father was diagnosed with cancer, who could have guessed that I would companion him until his dying day, fortified with personal knowledge of what it’s like to be afraid to the core of your being, so that I might offer him a wee bit of courage for his journey of letting go? What blessings in disguise 1978 brought to me! Only years later would many of them be known.
If I were to rise a bit higher up on the bleachers of my own life, I would observe that this year of healing and recovery deepened my faith, that even in the midst of suffering, I learned hope is real. Even in the midst of despair, discovered we are somehow cared for and deeply loved. Even in the darkest hour, the sun does come up the next morning to shed light on a new day ripe with possibilities and growth. This is the human drama. This is the journey each of us is asked to walk. If we can be in the moment with our pain, accept it for the brief millisecond in time that it is, holding on to the slightest rays of hope, good can come from it.
At holiday times, our thoughts inevitably turn to our many blessings. My invitation to you is to take a few moments for reflection and gaze upon a past experience of personal hardship or loss and discover if there are blessings in disguise awaiting you. Have you taken the time to “sit with it,” as I say, and allow the experience to simmer? Can you rise above any lingering pain and find a gift or two among the ashes? Did you change and grow in positive ways because of your experience? Are you a better person today than you were then? Sometimes journaling can be especially helpful in recognizing blessings in disguise if our mind is reluctant to do so. Free writing from your heart, allowing emotion to spill forth on paper, can release any locked up feelings and release the treasures buried within.
My friend and mentor, Sue Patton Thoele, in her book, Growing Hope: Sowing Seeds of Positive Change in Your Life and in the World, writes, “Many gifts can eventually be found among the tattered wrappings of distress.” I believe this to be true because I have lived it, not just in 1978, but many times after that, and I have witnessed it in the lives of thousands of other people time and again. Life is, indeed, full of blessings in disguise. We simply have to embrace them and welcome them in.