I can remember the rock bottom moment during my divorce. It was in the bathroom at 3:00 a.m., the only private space and hour I could find all to myself to fall apart in private without my kids or spouse around to hear or see it. Panic woke me from sleep, and I retreated to the bathroom where I locked the door and crouched in the corner so I could find an hour to just let it happen. I trembled from fear, sadness, confusion. But when I stood up and emerged from that cloud, I felt different somehow.
Everyone has her own story. The moment that you see in retrospect as the dividing line between the fall and the gradual climb back up. It hurts with a pain that cuts like no other, but the thing I never expected is the courage that comes when you turn that corner.
What's surprising about a personal tragedy, whether it is divorce or death or illness, is that you can emerge braver than ever on the other side if you have the boldness to look the pain squarely in the face as it happens. So few people in our society have the courage to process pain with all of its jagged edges. We constantly hear the message telling us to run to the next best thing to fix it -- alcohol, food, consumerism, a shiny new relationship. Anything to distract and dull the ache that lingers.
And I can see why we crave distraction. Unalterable pain hurts. But when you look it in the face and feel every bit of its sting, you come through the other side to realize the worst thing you thought could ever happen to you, it happened. The thing you thought you could never survive, you survived it.
And then you see so clearly that failure isn't really that scary.
All my life, I made the "right" decisions. The safe ones. I bought the story we are all told that promises us that when we do all of the right things -- work hard and choose well and give our time and energy to what calls for it -- we are rewarded.
But there's a chapter after that which nobody talks about. The one where sometimes you love people, and they betray you. Or you can't imagine life without someone, and that person dies anyway. Or you would make an amazing mother, and infertility has other plans. This isn't limited to divorce. There are countless unexpected ways that life can break your heart wide open.
But when you face that disappointment in its real state without running or hiding, you see it for what it is, and somehow you still survive it. The warriors are left standing, and we are fearless.
Bravery doesn't always mean jumping from an airplane or buying a plane ticket for solo travel to Bali (though it might for some). There are even scarier ways to show your courage. For me, it means loving with my whole heart, knowing that nothing is guaranteed and it could be shattered again and again. It means taking that chance though I know I could fail. Parenting with an earnest honesty that changes my life as a mother and shapes everyday moments with my kids. Wearing my authentic self without apology. Listening to whatever stirs my spirit and jumping in with both feet. Creating beauty out of ashes to rebuild my life exactly as I want it, which often means changing course and readjusting my sails with new experiences.
Rumi, the thirteenth-century Persian poet and mystic, tells us, "Your life has been a mad gamble. Make it more so. You have lost now a hundred times running. Roll the dice a hundred and one." The full picture that many of us come to realize eventually is that it's all a mad gamble. Nothing is guaranteed. And failure isn't all that scary. In fact, sometimes it's the spark that points you to your real path home.