Either way, you win.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

I've been meeting the most fascinating, most interesting, most humble, most inspiring people in the most unlikely of places.
A church basement.
The dog park.
In line at the grocery store, as I impatiently flip through the People's and US Weekly's.
(Poor Ben and Jen.  Seriously.  I was really pulling for those two.  And Prince.  Just crazy.)

But these people I meet and have gotten in to conversations with, they were always there.  I was just too in my own head, caught up in my own judgements and assumptions to listen, REALLY listen past the surface of who I "thought" they were and truly HEAR their stories.

And they are human.  Just like you and me.  BUT?

I offered my photography skills to capture an event for my kids' school a few months back.
And I did it hesitatingly.  I haven't picked up my camera in a LONG time and it felt a bit weird to situate myself back in a role that doesn't seem to fit me anymore.

Regardless of my initial discomfort, I dusted off the lens and went on my merry way for the night.

I played wallflower for a bit, hiding in the back amongst the shadows of the faded faux Ficas trees during the dinner hour, alongside a few lovely Knights of Columbus volunteers who had also come to offer their services, preparing food and playing bartenders.  Pouring stiff cocktails into little plastic cups, wedges of lime shoved in for added flavor.  

An older couple sat back against the wall next to me on metal folding chairs.  The man reminded me of the old man from the movie "Up."  Just cute as a button, minus the bitterness of Mr. Fredricksen.  A square-shaped head, white hair and thick, black rimmed glasses.  He was compact like a box.  And short.  A sweet, quiet man.

His wife was the exact opposite.  Much larger than him in size and personality and did all the talking.  She was a round and rosy-cheeked Norwegian Minnesotan, strong and stoic.  A manly, raspy voice like Marge Simpson's sisters.  One her children and grandchildren no doubt, fear and respect.  I love those kind of women.

She made note of the large camera roosted heavily in my lap and could probably sense my interest in wanting to capture these two paired side by side.  Which I was.  As they were just adorable.  Ignoring all common courtesies and traditional introductions, she says, "Don't you go takin' no pictures of my big arm now!"  And laughed heartily as she attempted to lift her right arm with her left hand.  A feeble attempt, as the weight of her right just brought it down like an anvil on her thigh.

"Ah, are you ok?  Did something happen to your arm?"  I asked.

And off we went.

She began sharing all her current health issues, as well as her husband's.  
(Who didn't appear to be the slightest bit embarrassed.  I suppose he's used to this style of communication by now.)

I can't even name all of them. . .the web of ailments she wove, one leading in to the other, for a solid twenty minutes.  From Cancer (which she is currently battling,) to his heart, her heart, diabetes, his surgeries, her surgeries, a virus here, a fungus there. . .the list was forever long.  

I just sat there stunned. . .jaw to floor as she continued on without my permission.
My own insecurities and fears surfacing quickly as I tried to put myself in her shoes and imagine how I would cope. . .sweat starting to form on my brow.
How?  How are they doing this?

But she laughed.  
She LAUGHED at the mile-long list of illness and disease, injuries and hospital stays.  She tried again to lift the severely swollen arm that dangled at her side and said, 
"Ha!  Would ya' look at this?!  Would ya' look, at this?!  My arm's so big!  From the damn treatment!  And he almost didn't make it out of that surgery!!!  Remember, that honey?  We thought you were dead?"  He nodded, sheepishly.  "And then after HE recovered, the doctor's all said it was a stinkin' miracle and he should really be dead!  And then I fell and got hurt and had to go to the hospital right after he got out!  That happened, and then our granddaughter died and. . ." 
On and on and on and she STILL laughed.  

I think I said, "Sweet Jesus," under my breath, as she continued to spew all MY own greatest fears back at me, that she had lived through.

Sweet Jesus.

I kind of wanted to give her a hug but she didn't seem like she needed it.
So I lamely asked, "Are you. . .ok?"  Expecting her to burst in to tears or ask for a hug and just heave cry into my shoulder and say how awful life has been and how hard it all is and why me. . .

Instead, this is what she said.

"Well?  I figured I can either stay here and fight the cancer?  Or I can go back home and be with the Lord.  So?  Might as well stay and fight for a bit!"  She snort-laughed and dug an elbow in to her husband's ribs and got him going.  And they both sat and giggled as if life, up until this moment, was quite the cosmic joke.  "Either way, it's all good."

With God on your side, it's all good.
You can recall all your personal suffering, even do so without complaint.  
Acknowledge all you've been through.
But still manage to have gratitude and the knowledge that either way, you win, with God in your heart and guiding your steps forward.

So I laughed with her.  Because she is SO right!  I wanted to stand up and shout, "Yes!  Yes!  That's it!  We don't have to suffer our experience as humans so much!  Especially knowing either way, we win!  IF we have faith.

Yes, being in pain, physically or emotionally, sucks and can be so isolating.  Grief and despair and sadness can feel so overwhelming and debilitating, yes.  Totally.  Fear, anxiety, apprehension can be downright paralyzing, crippling.  Robbing us of the vitality and enthusiasm to live life fully without holding back, yes.

But WE make it 10x harder.  It doesn't have to be so hard.  Does it?

Amen, sister.  Amen.  That's what I wanted to say.  
I just sat there giggling with them.
And I left, feeling another piece of the puzzle I seem to have been missing, get set in place.
You can stay here and do the best you can.  Love the best you can.  Work with what you got.  STILL find peace, joy, even HUMOR in the worst possible scenarios.  Forgive those who have wronged you or hurt you or disappointed you and move on.  Free your mind and body from all that unnecessary pain.  AND?  You will still go home from where you came.

I keep asking this question. . .why do we make it so hard?
Trying to be more than we already are, when we are already enough?

Why create so much suffering for ourselves?  Why be so attached to the pain of our pasts?  Why be a total di** to people you love?  Why judge ANYONE?  What's the point of opinions?  Do they really matter?  

It seems, most times, we have no one to blame but ourselves.  Yes, there are mean, even evil people in the world, so much "unfairness" and unexplainable detriment to human life.  But we ADD to that by letting our emotions and feelings run the show.  

What if we just lead with compassion, gratitude and kindness, service to others, taking action where we can, no matter how upset our mind or ego get and remember that EVERYONE, EVERYONE is in the same boat? 

Man.  We make things so much more complicated than they need to be.

Learning to live a life not governed by your ego and identity feels nearly impossible some days.
Trying to live aware of but not governed by the "feelings" and emotions that arise within you is NOT easy.
But the glimpses of peace, freedom, presence, unconditional love and compassion not just for myself but for total strangers?  
Has been more than worth the suffering to experience life on a deeper level.

So these inspiring people I've been meeting (more stories to come.)  I don't doubt they have bad days, maybe really bad days, question their faith, get angry at God, ask why, struggle against suffering, we are only human, after all.
BUT their trust and devotion far outweighs their own desires or feelings of the moment.

They know deep down, it's all passing.  All you can do is swim with the current.
They are not living without fear, but alongside it, trusting which ever way it goes, it's going to be ok in the end.


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