Life uproots, carries you away, and sets you down before a hard road. A loved one is diagnosed with cancer. A dear friend passes away, suddenly. Your children are diagnosed with an incurable disease. Your marriage fails. Your family is torn apart and gone forever. In a flash, the fragments of a life you’ve threaded into a contented whole comes undone.
A mural of the future you harbour in your mind’s eye slowly dissipates. Its radiant features start to fall from vision one by one, until you are left with a tattered canvass. Where once you envisioned vivid, bright vistas and dances with joy, there are wistful shades of grey and sullen days. You wonder, will the colours of my world ever again sprinkle my mind with images as brilliant, as sublime?
You wish something monumental could be done to reverse the course of events. You’re a shrewd fixer, fashioned a way through torments of the past. But life is indifferent to your measured response, your brave face. It’s too vast for pithy words; too big to tuck in a box. Too cumbersome to leave your heart untainted. You have no choice but to take what it gives and feel how it feels.
Here’s the grace: the ebbs and flows often carry blessings. But they are robbed of their might by ingratitude and blindness before they are dispersed to the recesses of our mind. We aren’t overtaken by bliss as readily as we are enveloped in sadness. Cling to your joy as ardently as you can, don’t allow it to subside. Consume it as if it were your last meal and lick the plate clean. If you don’t, when handed a bitter pill your joy never again tastes as sweet nor is as easy to find.
Yet, moments of bliss do not leave scars to remember them by. The weight of the world’s tragedies disembowels, striking when we are least prepared to fight, when we consigned the onslaught to our imagination. It arrives with the catastrophic force of an asteroid crashing to earth, leaving widespread ruin in its wake. The trauma of our misfortunes is their immensity, their cruelty and caprice; how easily they penetrate our defences against the assault.
It’s not so easy to move on, to believe the palpitations in your heart will subside over time, when you are left with a void as deep as the sea. They say to go on living we must allow our wounds to heal, to accept the scars they leave. It does no good to pick away at our scabs, to prolong the sting of suffering. But when life’s tragedies occur – when they fail to make sense – the urge to ask ‘Why?’ gets its pound of flesh. It’s a picking not easily ceased.
Having had to lick a lifetime of wounds, we hope wisdom overcomes the upheaval around the corner, when we find ourselves travelling down one of many hard roads. We hope it will consume less of us each time we confront what unfolds. That the moments of joy in between will shield us from the havoc unleashed by the storms we weather. Maybe next time, the pain will be less all-encompassing, even if the journey is wicked and seems without end.
The hope is life’s calamities don’t leave me too withered to suffer the next siege. I fear being emptied out entirely by the struggle, until there’s no man left to fight, no soul left to scar. I am propelled forward by the will to learn how supple the heart is, and where it breaks. For now, it is enough.