David’s grandmother passed away last week, and was laid to rest on Saturday. I didn’t know her very well because she was a victim of Alzheimer’s, and it was fairly advanced by the time David and I started dating. Despite not really knowing her, I cried through the entire funeral service. The first reason is that I cry almost any time I see someone I love crying; and I have the insane good luck of not only loving my husband deeply, but also loving his whole extended family. I’m a big empathetic crier. Also, any time that I read or listen to the story of someone’s life, I can’t help but put myself in that person’s place. In the case of David’s grandma, she did a really good job at life. She was someone who lived life with grace and joy despite an abundance of adversity. I didn’t cry because it was sad that she had adversity in her life; I cried because I was happy that she was still so happy. I wish I had felt the same thing at all of the funerals I’ve attended.
Adversity in life is something that I have been thinking about a lot lately. It’s been on my mind because my family is one of the many families that has been hit very hard by the economic problems in this country. With five adults (my parents, my brother, my husband and myself) living under one roof, and with each of us having our own fully-developed and separate problems, the house is a veritable petri dish for the many ways that people deal with adversity. I’ve been closely observing everyone’s different responses in my family and outside of it. There are almost as many difficult circumstances and ways of dealing with them as there are different people in the world, but I think that they can all be simplified into two sources and two ways of responding. The following is what I have observed so far.
I think there are two basic sources of adversity. The first source are things that people can’t help, and had no part in bringing on themselves. Things that just “happen” to people that have nothing to do with their choices. Some examples are disease, floods, child abuse, tornadoes, and other disasters. Cases in which the victims are completely innocent. Some might put the economic downturn in this category. The other source is based in human choice. For example, I chose to go to college for writing, even though I knew it would make it harder for me to make money. I guess you could call this category the category of difficult decisions: you weigh the pros and cons of a decision and decide what you think is best, and sometimes you end up being wrong.
Sometimes the line between the two categories is blurred. Often people will do everything they can to be sure that an event is whittled down to the finest point of fault. After hurricane Katrina, for example, a lot of people said those people somehow deserved what happened because they chose to live in a city that is at risk for flooding. This whittling becomes especially true when you bring God into the discussion. People don’t want to think about the possibility that God would just let something like that happen, so they find ways to make disasters the fault of the victims. More often it’s the other way around, where people don’t want to accept responsibility for their problems, and play the victim of a tyrannical God when a problem is really the result of their own poor choices.
One thing that is universally true about adversity is that everybody has it (and if you can’t see someone’s problems it just means that they’re really good at hiding them). A second thing that is almost as true is that the severity of each person’s problems are completely in the context of that person. For example, when we hear celebrities whining to the press we all harden our hearts, because we think “yeah, right. I would LOVE to trade my problems for her problems!.” But if the worst thing that ever happens to that celebrity is that she gets her picture taken too much, it is going to feel just as bad for that person as it would feel for the average joe to lose his house. We can’t really compare our problems to anyone else’s, because no two people are the same inside their heads and in terms of what they are emotionally equipped to handle.
Like I implied in my opening paragraph about David’s grandma: some people respond to adversity as a fact of life. They might be sad for a little while, or mad, but they deal with it and move on. Others respond as if they are always a victim. In other words, they get angry about the problems life presents, no matter how huge or how minor, and then never even try to get over it. And what is the point of staying angry? It does nothing but destroy a person’s ability to see the ways that they are blessed. I think that these two ways of responding represent two basic ways of viewing life: you can either view it as a trial or a gift. A blessing or a curse. And I’ve been learning that so much depends on choice.
It isn’t always easy; especially when I feel like life is throwing curve-balls at my head on a daily basis, and I still have my fair share of days where I don’t want to get out of bed; but I have been trying to choose the perspective of life as a gift. The way I see it is that no matter what happens, no matter how bad things suck, I still have this life, and I try to be grateful for it. I could have never been alive at all. I don’t want to waste my time on this amazing planet being angry all the time about things that I couldn’t help, or about times that I made the wrong choice. It’s a gift to have the capacity to make any choice at all. I have to say, the more I can bring myself to think this way, the less big problems seem, and the more happy and alive I feel.