I’m just trying not to hang on too tight.
A friend of ours said these words as we celebrated with them this week. After years of hard work and manifold bends in the road, they are in a positive, hopeful, great place. So great, in fact, they can’t bear to think that right now might not last for the rest of their lives.
But they’re old enough to know better.
These past few days I’ve wondered if I have a stamp on my forehead that says, my life’s a little intense right now, so please make it harder, if you can. I’m so sure this sign exists – perhaps even has blinking lights around it – that the edginess of a few weeks ago looks happy in comparison to the feisty, cynical bark escaping me now.
I guess I thought when I got cancer, that would be it. I remember breathing a sigh of relief when I first found out about it. Yes, there was actually something physically wrong with me, and I wasn’t just not coping well.
I remember thinking, well, I don’t have to worry about my life turning on its head anymore.
Life had already turned on its head. So, it wouldn’t happen again….
But, as the friends we celebrated with this week are also smart enough to know, that’s not the way it works.
There are no guarantees.
Sometimes we go through something hard, or scary, or unsettling, and our world spins differently for awhile. We call these moments, days, hours, or years – “scares.”
When something good happens, we think the scare is over.
Life goes back to normal.
We brush off the scare as an anomaly – something really hard we did once, because we had to. And, maybe if we don’t talk about, ignore it, maybe, it goes away and never comes back.
What happens when the scares come closer and closer together? What do we do when they pile up one horrendous layer at a time?
We can get bitter. We can think we’ve been screwed over. We can think that life has done us horribly, horribly wrong.
(I admit I’m flirting with that right now.)
But each time the undertow threatens to drag me under, one gentle thought keeps me from giving in:
Maybe this is real life.
Maybe this is what was supposed to happen.
I don’t know why. It doesn’t seem right. But maybe, maybe, we were always meant to live with the knowledge that there are no guarantees.
We grow up thinking the world operates under a set of rules. As children we crave structure. We thrive in clearly-defined boundaries.
Structure makes us feel safe.
As adults we learn that the rules aren’t as clearly defined as before.
For example, Wednesday David and I drove to his cardiologist’s office in Surrey. The building is beautiful. The doctor is well-spoken, kind, humble.
But the drive there is terrifying.
No, really. I am starting to believe that David’s stress may be entirely due to the Wipeout-style obstacle course he navigates every day on his drive to work.
See, for some reason, drivers in South Surrey aren’t like drivers in the Fraser Valley.
Every time I go there, I feel like any one of these people could run a red light and hit me – at any time.
I told David this as we meandered our way to almost-but-definitely-not-quite-White-Rock.
That’s a valid concern, he acknowledged.
We laughed. But it got me thinking.
The rules help control the fun, David and I often joke.
It’s one of our favorite quotes from Friends.
But in some degree, Monica was right.
We spend most of our lives clinging to rules we didn’t even know we had.
We feel shaky when things don’t look like we expected them to look.
On Wednesday David’s cardiologist reviewed the events that led to the referral. He asked question after question. David often glanced at me with that look – what is he getting at? – and I’d explain. The doctor reviewed every test we’d had done so far. Then he said the good news:
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you.
As I wrote before, sometimes lone events of atrial fibrillation occur in young men.
As the cardiologist said, they’re usually triggered by binge drinking or cocaine use.
Yeah, that’s not him.
The cardiologist admitted that he wasn’t sure what the trigger was for David’s experience.
It could be any number of things, he said.
There’s still a few things to rule out. He wants a detailed echo report. (Our family doctor had previously told us it looked normal). He recommended a holter monitor to make sure there isn’t some ‘symptom-free runs of atrial fib’ happening without David knowing. He also hasn’t seen the results of the adrenal tumor test yet. It often takes a long time to get a definitive answer for that. So, technically, we’re not in the clear.
But there is a very good chance that what happened is not indicative of anything bad. There’s a very good chance it will never happen again.
But there are also no guarantees.
Except one: what happened IS most likely due to stress.
The people I’ve talked to about this have been relieved for me. I admit I am also relieved. As far as we can tell – so far – there’s nothing in David that will significantly impact or shorten his life span.
But, many have misinterpreted this relief as an easy thing to deal with.
They’re right in a sense. If all this is due to stress, it is a better problem than the host of other possibilities.
But it’s still a problem.
This week David and I looked at our life. What can be changed? What can be cut? What can be different?
But here’s the thing – a lot of the causes of stress in our life can not be changed.
And that’s when it hit me.
We talk a lot about stress in our society. We say we’re more stressed than ever – and we are. We think, if we could just get rid of the stress…
But sometimes we can’t.
Sometimes, all we can do, is learn to be okay with it.
See, I don’t think we were ever meant to live a quiet, gentle, constantly-happy, boring little jet-setter lives. I don’t think it was ever part of the plan to be entitled to all the things we’ve learned to be entitled to.
I starting to think we were never meant to live stress-free lives.
Parents, hear me out on this: can you imagine what would happen to your children if you let them get everything they ever wanted? Can you imagine what kind of people they would become if nothing was ever hard for them?
Perhaps you don’t have to imagine. Perhaps you’ve already seen it. Perhaps we’ve all seen it – in the over-indulged 1%, in the kids who live in the mansion down the street, in us.
I’m starting to think that maybe the happiest among us may also have the most significant challenges. I’m starting to believe the most satisfying lives are lived by those who fight insurmountable obstacles.
I think they bring out the hero in us –
– if we let them.
We might not be able to rid our lives of stress.
But maybe that’s a good thing.
We might be able to do something better:
Learn to live at peace with stress.
It’s not easy. But I think there might be a happy ending in there somewhere.