“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
I turn to this quote from Vivian Green for inspiration when I’m having one of those days—the sort of day that if something can go wrong, it definitely will. The sort of day that leaves you wishing you’d followed your first instincts, pulled the covers over your head and stayed in bed to hide from the world.
We all have days when nothing seems to go right and it feels like the universe is conspiring against us. But those days usually pass. The next day, the sun is shining and we breathe a sigh of relief knowing things are back on track.
But what happens when the storm doesn’t pass? What happens when, time and time again, you’re dealt a blow that makes it more difficult to get back up? When one thing after another goes wrong and overwhelming feelings of disappointment, failure and gloom descend?
Times like these remind us that our lives are precariously balanced. Tragedy and disappointment do not discriminate. Their devastating blows can knock us off our feet and cause us to question our own existence.
This week, life hurled a rock at me. I lost my balance, but in trying to gain it back, I found some clarity.
I called a dear friend, Jane, whom I hadn’t spoken with in months. Jane and I have one of those friendships that doesn’t need regular maintenance. Every time we speak, it feels like no time has passed—we pick up effortlessly where we left off. I’d heard that Jane had finally retired after working 12-hour days for decades at a job she loved. I was anxious to see how she was adjusting to her new lifestyle.
Jane answered the phone with characteristic cheeriness that I’ve grown to love, then insisted on being updated on my news before allowing me to ask about hers. With the same cheerful tone in her voice, Jane told me that just a month after she’d finishing working, she was diagnosed with cancer. Inoperable cancer. The same day she learned of her own terminal illness was the day her beloved daughter-in-law passed away.
This is a woman who has spent her entire career making others feel important. For decades, she’d played a rigorous role in the lives of her children, grandchildren and neighbors. Then just as she closed the door on her professional life, surely looking forward to many years of well-deserved family time and leisure, Jane is facing the devastating reality that she doesn’t have much time left.
As I sat listening to her, my heart sank. When I spoke, my voice trembled—but hers stayed firm, calm, hopeful.
Jane recounted her experience in the hospital waiting room, surrounded by other patients with similar diagnoses. In that moment, she told me, she realized how lucky she actually was.
Jane has lived a rich and full life. She’s raised her family and watched her children become parents. She’s had a career that took her all over the world, allowed her to experience different cultures and log decades of service. Because many other patients were young men and women who hadn’t had the chance to create memories, Jane said she is the fortunate one. Even amidst a blizzard of fear and uncertainty, my friend was still thinking of others before herself. When she could rightly feel overwhelmed and scared, she feels positive and optimistic.
Jane has a challenging road ahead of her. Like the mythical Sisyphus, she’s shouldering a burden that could very well overtake her. It will take every ounce of her strength, courage and spirit to push her personal boulder up this hill. She won’t be able to do it alone…but she won’t have to. Jane will have the support of family, friends, colleagues, medical teams and complete strangers who will do their best to protect, shield and comfort her. Because sometimes when life throws you rocks, and you’re feeling bruised and battered, you need an entire community to help you get back on your feet.
Right now, the world is being pummeled with destructive messages. We’re being divided into teams of “us” and “them.” Basic human dignity is being denied to many around the world. It’s not just women, the LGBTQ community or people of color who are suffering. Every single one of us will feel the impact of the hateful rhetoric that’s dominating our conversations. Humanity and decency are taking major hits, and we could all be worse off because of it.
Like Jane, we can’t be crushed by the boulders coming our way. Threats of segregation and discrimination can be overcome, but only when many voices shout louder, collectively turning the conversation to tolerance and inclusion. If we work together as communities, we can ensure equal opportunity and human rights to all regardless of color, religion, gender or cultural background.
When life throws us rocks, we have a choice. We can lay down and be defeated, or we can rally our strength, seek help from our communities, face adversity head on and feel thankful in the knowledge that if and when we fall, someone will be there to help us get back on our feet.