Yesterday, in a post-Thanksgiving turkey-glazed-haze, I was mentally thumbing through the past year, the ups and downs and sideways moments that had come and gone and shaped my experience with breast cancer. That’s what Thanksgiving is all about, right? Giving thanks for the blessings of the past year? Maybe it was the mashed potatoes talking, maybe it was the book on Kabbalah I am reading, but in that moment, the true gifts of the past year stepped forward and took a bow. I was not surprised by them. Honestly, I was more surprised that it took me this long to recognize them. You see, life’s true gifts are not always the comfortable moments in life. The most meaningful gifts are more often the ones that make us squirm, the difficult, sometimes soul-crushing moments that test our mettle, and give us perspective.
For instance, for me chemo was a wonderful adventure. I know, nuts, right? Once I made the choice to have chemo, there was no use griping about it, so I made the best of it and decided to find the nuggets of gold it had to offer. So I set aside the fact that poison was dripping into my vein, and of course the post chemo-day bodily havoc that would follow, and focused on the people and the pampering. I thought, at the time, that all the really nice nurses were the gift, with their lovely stories told while I snuggled under warm blankets, happily munching on warm cookies. I trusted them. I was happy and calm. They were a gift, each and every one of them, but they were not THE gift. The true gift was the one nurse that rubbed me, and my husband, Ken, the wrong way. I can’t recall her name, but she presided over my one unhappy, uncomfortable, anxiety-filled infusion. She rattled me, my cage and my perspective. The reality was, and is, chemo nurses are a crap shoot. For me, each week I had a new smiling face cruise-directing my treatment. My experience was in his or her hands. This one nurse, while I’m sure she meant well, she was the true “gift.” She, unbeknownst to her, taught me that warm, comfortable infusions nestled in the bosom of trust and calm are a gift. She, my friends, was my black coal of perspective.
It is easy to be grateful for the happy moments in life, the smiles that light our way, the laughter that tickles our ear, but I say we should also be grateful for the less amazing events. The losses that leave a void aching to be filled, the tears shed to wash away the pain etched on our cheeks, the anger that bubbles over for injustices, real and perceived. I am of the opinion, as are a long list of philosophers and gurus, that without sorrow we cannot know true joy, without lack we cannot appreciate abundance, and without pain we cannot truly appreciate pleasure. Without their counterparts, emotions ring hollow. They become bells with lackluster tones, heralding good fortune that no one bothers to notice anymore due to its unerring regularity. How much more melodious life would be if we listened with zeal and abandon to all the tones of the emotional scale, the ominous as well as the lilting, with equal openness and attention, embracing each in their turn for the range they bring and the perspective they offer.
I don’t expect anyone to enjoy sad, frustrating or anger-filled moments; I certainly don’t. I do recognize what they bring to my life, and I do recognize that once I have identified them I can work on changing them. Our emotions, like notes on a scale, are our own to play, as we wish. But I am getting off track. That my friends, is for another week … For now, suffice it to say that a little emotional coal may not be the gift you had hoped for, but in time you will find it to be the best gift you ever received.