Tuesday, May 28, 2013

At peace with adversity

You never really appreciate those years in your youth, as a kid, that were so free of everything.  At least, not while you're in it.

I tell my kids this all the time.  "Love these years.  They are the best times of your life."  I see the look on their faces, and I get that they don't exactly grasp what it is I'm getting at.

When we're young, our world is so small.  It's mom and dad (if you're lucky), your best action figure, your favorite candy bar and soda.  It's your aunt's chocolate pie, or grandma's spaghetti.  It's the rain, and mud, Saturday morning cartoons, walking home from school and laughing with your best friend about using curse words for the first time, or sneaking some smokes from his older brother.

It's camping out and roasting marshmallows (look, the burnt kind are always the best, I can never figure out why people just want to fucking "brown" them), then telling fake scary stories to make sure you're scared shitless from every sound in the woods the rest of the night.

These are some of the things that make up our youth.  We never love them as much as we should when they are happening.  That's because we have no context of the life outside of what we're currently living in.  The moment, the present....it's what we know.  Especially then because there's so little we know about life and living, problems, death, taxes, and STD's.

When your world is small, simple problems loom so large.  That's because in a small world, a tiny ripple in the water can feel like a hurricane.  An argument with your best friend, being picked on at school, failing a test, not making the starting team on defense, getting rejected by that girl you took so long to work the nerve up to ask out.

THESE are real problems in that world.  They are.  They really are.  Because in the context of that existing world, it's all we know.  And we don't have the fortune of being experienced enough to know when not to give a fuck, or when to give many.  So everything that falls apart on us, feels like the apocalypse.

I mean, who doesn't remember their first bout of heartache?  That feeling like life could not continue without that person loving you.  Not being able to hold their hand, and exchange those innocent glances that we weren't sure what they meant or what they were about, but made us feel awesome and all tingly inside.  Now that those things are taken away, it made you cry and hurt in a way that you had not experienced before.  It cut deep in a way that losing your best G.I. Joe could not compare to.  And that cut pretty deep, because Snake eyes was your favorite!

But it's that hurt, and those experiences, that eventually make our world bigger, and puts hurt and loss into context and perspective for us, at an individual level.

That's because it's really adversity that takes that tiny world, and expands it just a little bit.  Then each time a new type of loss, or heartache, or conflict arises that world grows a little more.  It becomes a little bigger.  And some problems become a little smaller.

Problems that used to fold us over emotionally, now don't even seem worthy of a yawn.  They feel less inconsequential than turning the page of an ad in that shitty magazine we skim through while waiting in the doctors office....to get an STD test of course.

As we grow, our world grows.  That small circle grows in circumference.  The dots inside that circle that we call our problems, well they never changed in size.  It's just that the circle gets to be so big, that they don't seem significant anymore.  That dot that represented getting turned down by that chic for our date to prom was big in our high school world.

Thirty years later, when you're sitting beside your wife as she fights to survive her battle with cancer, well, that dot of prom rejection is still there.  It still exists.  It's even still the same size it was when it happened all those years before.  But the circle it exists in is so large now, that you never notice it anymore.  You forgot about it long ago.  You're only reminded of it if someone happens to do so for youThen instead of being run over with pain or rejection, you look at that dot with a smile or a laugh.  Because the cancer dot fills up so much of your worlds circle, that everything else feels so insignificant in comparison.

Of course we ultimately get the power to decide how big our "dots" inside our world are going to be.  How much space we allow them to take up inside of that circle.  Not getting that job promotion can seem pretty big, if we want it to.

That is, until something REALLY tragic happens.

Last weekend, I was alerted to the fact that a long time friend of mine, lost his daughter.  She was five.  I don't know that I've ever known a dad so in love with his little girl.  She was his best friend, and the biggest dot in his world.

She was a premature baby, and had always had problems with her lungs.  She had been admitted to the hospital, and after a week of fighting a good strong fight, her little body just couldn't keep it up anymore, and it yielded to the pneumonia.

Upon receiving the news, I began crying.  I knew what she had meant to him, and how much of his world he had built around her.  I dialed his number and left a message.  I cannot remember what I said in those moments, because I was far too emotional over the loss of my friends little girl.

A few days later, my phone rang and it was him.  He told me that my message left HIM in tears, and that I sounded like I had lost my little girl.  That my voicemail was one of the most inspiration things he had ever heard.  He told me that he and his wife had listened to it over and over and over again.

"You're like the white Ray Lewis." he told me in laughter.

Yes, he laughed.  In a time where he was having to make arrangements to bury his precious baby, he still managed to smile about something.  Mainly, my voice mail to him.

I have no idea what I said in it.  I can't recall because I was too emotional, but apparently it was good enough to give some comfort to two people who were dealing with the biggest dot their world had ever decided to blot them with.

Knowing I was able to say something, anything, that gave someone an inkling of reprieve during a time of such loss and bereavement, was astonishing to me.  Probably because I don't believe there would be any words that would comfort me in such a time of loss.  How could it?  Nothing could make me feel any better during a time when my world would be filled up with such an enormous "dot".

I will tell you why it gave my friend some comfort.  Because he allowed it to.

As that tiny world from our youth grows into the larger one we come to live in as adults, we ultimately get our world blotted with more dots; more problems and more anguish.  Our dots can only be as big or as small as we decide they get to be.  They can only take up as much space in our head and heart as we designate for them.

Coming to peace with adversity is something that rang so loudly in my head when I talked to my friend about his daughter passing.  Suddenly, all the "dots" in my world that seemed so very very large, became very very small.

What in my life, did I really have to grieve over at the moment?  Or better yet, what did I have in my life to grieve over that felt justified, when I was reminded what real grief looks like?

Some could say it's simply about putting things back into perspective, and I suppose that's true.  Some could say that you could always say "someone else has it much worse than you" and that's true as well.  Again, that's simply saying "perspective" is the only thing that matters.  But your problems and your trials that exist inside your circle, well, they are still real and they are still yours.  They do feel important, especially in the context of your existence.  They can become large if you let them.  They can become suffocating at times.  Especially when it feels like what you are currently going through, will never end.  We always believe that the present will last forever.  But it never does.  Change is the only constant.  What was yesterday isn't what is today, and tomorrow will be something different as well.

Every moment you survive, your circle expands.  The experience of living life guarantees that.  The size of the dots that fill that circle are generally decided by us.  Sometimes life decides that it will paint a much larger dot than we want at the time.  Possibly so large it engulfs that circle, making everything else that has ever happened to us feel as though it was wiped clean from life's window that we peer out of.  Then all of the other adversities that we felt were of such huge magnitude, shrink very quickly.

No matter how big the "blot" is, it too eventually becomes a place in our world that we find peace with.  Time truly does heal all wounds.  It always does, at least to some degree.  But the significance of that dot remains.  It keeps all the other dots that came before it, and after it, in perspective.  And without perspective, we can't possibly know what's really important, and what is not.

All of my blessing, love, and condolences to the Miller's.  I love you guys.


  1. Condolences to the Miller's, may they find hope in their darkest hour.

    Here i am sitting in my chair, half way around a world, thinking about your story, sending it to people i care about, and it all feels like a deja vu, because this is not the first one of your work that struck the chord with me. It feels to me like you channel your energy through your writing, and that inspired me to start putting words on paper myself. It helps me in defining things in my head, and also it makes me learn in the process.
    I'm thankful to you and i hope good things come your way

  2. This is simply a great post. At the risk of being a broken record, I admire and appreciate the selfless way you put yourself out there with your writing. Though I know this post was not really about you - your friends are lucky to know you, and your family is lucky to have you.

    As with Alex, I will be forwarding this blog entry to those I care about.


  3. Thanks for the perspective today. -JFG3

  4. You are the muscle Oprah, in a good way.

  5. Paul, this is one of the best things I have ever read. Anywhere. You are a class act! This hit home for me and many others. I have a new baby (two months old today) and I teared up just reading what you wrote about your friend's daughter. My condolences to him and all the family.


  6. Paul,
    This just broke my up, I'm sitting here with tears in my eyes. Thank you for posting this. I'm printing this off and posting this essay in my classroom for my students to read (hopefully). You sir, are a class act.

  7. Thanks Paul. Great post. As someone who’s sat there on the coach while his wife got the phone call saying “sorry, it’s cancer”, I’ve seen that “perspective adjustment” first hand. So you re-adjust, re-calibrate your goals and keep chipping away at what matters.

    Speaking of which: yesterday (aged 43) I pulled 405 in the gym for the first time. I’ve always been a pussy when deadlifting. One really cool thing, apart from it being really un-expected, pulling 405 was that the most I pulled in training was 315x8, with an over-warmup at 355, last week – I haven’t gone remotely near a 1RM in any of my lifts all year. But since I am about to go on vacation and won’t be able to hit the gym properly for the next 10 days, I figured I would go for it, and shoot for a PR at 375. I crushed that, then 395. In for a penny, in for a pound, I shoved on the 4th plate and nailed it. I had a little more in the tank I think, but 3 PRs in a row was too much to take as it was – a 405 pull was my goal for the year. And that is after hitting a clean and press PR of 185 on Monday - and all my press training has been for reps at 135 with over-warmup singles up to 155, occasionally 165. Thanks for all the smart training stuff (base-building works, and is great for older guys like me) and “life” stuff, although to me, that is often a line that blurs. Now I’m off to enjoy some R&R. Lift Run Bang, bitches.

  8. This choked me the hell up.

    I've been thinking about stuff like this a lot the last few months, how simple things seemed when you were a kid. When i was in my teens and thought i was "overwhelmed" with school work and was "depressed"...shit just makes me laugh now at how stupid it seems ten years on.

    Totally echoes what you were saying up there about the dots being the same, it's just YOU that's changed. The puddle those dots used to be floating in is an ocean now haha. Was talking to a friend recently, a guy i was in school with, and we're both married and working long hours etc, and trying to get a night where we can just meet up and shoot the shit is nigh on impossible.

    This post makes me realise that as busy and full my schedule seems to me now, no matter how stressed i get with work or whatever, it's gonna get even crazier when i have kids. Looking back in another ten years is gonna make my life now seem just as silly as my life in school.

    I can't even begin to contemplate the pain and loss your friend is feeling. That dot doesn't even nearly fit into my world. I honestly hope it never does.

    All the condolences in the world to the Millers, i hope they find a way to come out the other side of this.


  9. I wish the Miller's all the understanding and comfort they can get, in dealing with something I can't fathom. My own little girl is six and my son is four, and I can't imagine my life without them.

    As always, Paul Carter, I thank you for putting your thoughts out there so fearlessly and honestly.