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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Ramblings of a Hopeless Optimist

     I guess I've always been a hopeless optimist. You know, rose colored glasses and all. Somehow I am not only always able to see the silver lining, but I'm often grateful for the cloud. I think it's because I know that hardship is necessary for growth and evolution. If things never get difficult, then there is never any reason to make change. Look at the horseshoe crab. It has had the exact same morphology (sorry, forgot I'm a science geek)...It has had the same exact body plan since the dinosaur era (Paleozoic, if you care). Its habitat hasn't changed much at all, so it hasn't changed either. Evolution only occurs when a species is stressed. And likewise, we as humans, only grow spiritually and emotionally when we are stressed.
     The other reason why I think I always manage to smile and keep my head up, even during my most difficult days is because I look at what others have gone through. We all suffer. Some people suffer and wallow in it. They spend their whole lives lamenting what could have been. But then there are those who have suffered the greatest of tragedies and somehow go on to live happy full lives. These are the people who have inspired me to get up in the morning even on my bleakest of days. There are many stories, these are just a couple that stand out in my mind.

The Survivors 
     I remember in high school when Mrs. Curran had us read Night, by Eli Weisel. This was the first of many stories I've read or have been told of Holocaust survivors. In college, I read Victor Nagel's What Does It All Mean, and my perspective on human suffering changed forever. When I think of what those people lived through. The torture. The loss. There aren't even enough words. A few weeks ago, my girlfriend, Staci and I were having lunch and she began telling me about her grandparents. They were Jewish and living in Germany in the 1940's. Her grandfather was able to keep this a secret. He actually worked for the Nazis as a bookkeeper in this little shack of a building nearby where a group of enslaved Jews were forced to work. He would sometimes let them secretly come into his shack for warmth. He fell in love with a young girl (Staci's grandmother) and one day he hid her. They then somehow escaped the Nazis and ran away together. I didn't get the whole story (I told her she should record them telling it and write it down). I'm sure I may have mistold some of the details. One can only imagine that their journey was treacherous and full of hardship. I know that she said that her grandmother gave birth to her mother on the side of the road as they fled to safety in Nazi Germany. Can you imagine?! I gave birth twice in a hospital without any painkillers in a safe clean environment. It was the most difficult thing I ever did.....ON THE SIDE OF A ROAD?!!!! At some point, her grandparents made it to New York. They managed to start a new life and they raised a wonderful family. From what I gathered from Staci I can say that they lived "happily ever after." As happily ever after as a holocaust survivor can, I suppose. 
     That kind of strength and perseverance amazes me. The will to survive. The power of love. And I have the nerve to stress out about my husband's car needing a new timing belt? At least I still have my husband. Let me tell you about my girlfriend, Joanna.
    "CansKer"
     Five years ago, my friends Joanna and Carlo were celebrating their daughter's 2nd birthday. Shortly thereafter he was having strange symptoms and after a whole lot of tests he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer....in his early thirties. Carlo loved life and lived joyfully. Truly. He and Joanna never gave up hope that he would get better. Most people don't get diagnosed in their early 30's. He was young and strong and he fought. He fought hard.  They had three years together as a family before he could  fight no more. During those three years they lived their lives to the fullest. They did not let his cancer prevent them from pursuing their dreams together. They bought a house. They took their daughter to Disney. They travelled to Italy to see their family. They laughed and joked....even about the cancer. He never lost his sense of humor. In the end of  the summer of 2009, they chose to become pregnant. Joanna said to me that she wanted him to have everything he wanted in his life, and that she was prepared that she might someday be a single parent. She was pregnant and showing at his funeral that fall. Carla was born in spring of this past year. Joanna is so inspiring to me and to anyone who knows her. She is grieving, of course, but she says that she cannot help but smile everytime she looks into Carla's shining brown eyes. She is so grateful to have this beautiful little soul bless her life.  She has accepted her lot in life, and she looks forward to her beautiful daughters' bright futures. She perseveres. I know she misses Carlo. And she has a 6 year old who desperately misses her daddy. But whenever I see her, she is smiling, and talking about her dreams for their future. She is living. She is finding joy in her life. And if she can move on and face each day as a single working mother/widow with a smile and hope for a better future, then so can I. So can you.
     The thing that we sometimes forget is that humans are animals. Our first instinct is to survive. And we do because we can learn from our experiences. We have the unique mental ability to detach ourselves from our situations.  Unlike most other creatures, we are more than our physical existence. We are capable learning from others' experiences, and we can alter our responses to stimuli.  There are people living in some of the harshest environments of this planet. They live without adequate food or clothing. There are people who have to walk MILES to get water for their families every day. EVERY DAY! And these are people who still manage to love and laugh and find joy in their lives, however difficult they may be. Whenever I'm feeling sorry for myself, I think about people who have lived through great trajedy and suffering and I think...How dare I. How dare I complain when I have so much to be thankful for. So whenever I feel like life is hard, I count my blessings. I take a deep breathe. I remember what my father always says, "This too shall pass." I try to think about what lesson I'm supposed to be learning. I pray for strength, and I let go.
     I hope that you can find the strength and faith to do the same.  I wish you love and happiness.  May you rise above your suffering and find whatever it is that you need to get through.   

2 comments:

  1. Hi Melissa - So sorry I have not followed your blog sooner. Your "words of wisdom" give us all something to think about - especially for someone like me who has seen more sadness than I care to even think about at times. Your stories go very deep into the heart of things. I try everyday to start with a clean slate -- a new beginning with a smile on my face and also try not to let the daily "nonsense" that creeps into all our lives bother me. My Dad, the eternal optimist (God rest his weary soul), always lived by "there but for the grace of God go I". If he had only one shirt and someone needed it, he would take it off and give it to them. He has always been my inspiration for giving back and trying to be a better person. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Thanks Lorraine....and Happy Birthday!

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