by guest blogger Renee James, essayist and blogger
You know those aphorisms designed to help you address some of life’s challenges? The ones that contend that life is a marathon, not a sprint; and that the race belongs to those who can go the distance, stay the course, blah, blah, blah…?
Wrong. We’re not all trying to hit our stride, savor the passing scenery as we make our way along this lovely, captivating trail we call life, take the hills as they come, enjoy the flat, even stretches, and never lose our momentum along the way.
We’re not marathoners. We’re hurdlers. Life seems to set them up over and over again, at odd intervals, and we clear them as best we can.
I stand by this little theory, although it feels at odds with what I read daily on Facebook, where almost every post seems to indicate a hurdle-free life. And yes, my news feed regularly features requests for prayers or support or strident denouncements of cancer/Democrats/puppy mills/Republicans/polluters/haters, and the like, but more often it chronicles the fantastic, fabulous, super-fun, and super-rewarding lives everyone is living, including stories about their amazingly supportive partners and astonishingly accomplished children.
Look, I love reading happy news about babies and weddings and love and awards and graduations and winners and promotions and kittens and general good cheer. Making a choice to post your own personal “good news” channel is anyone’s prerogative. Maybe these blissful people simply ban any talk of hurdles from Facebook-land. Or they just go around them. God bless, maybe that’ll work. But I wonder, what happens when you can’t do that? When you have to clear the obstacle or crash? What happens to all your “likes” then?
And that’s my point. Years ago, a smallish circle of friends and family shared the good and the bad, the yin and yang of our lives, and they not only accepted it, but they welcomed it and recognized it as “real life.” They often helped us clear those hurdles—maybe not easily, but they were there for us.
I’m just a little perplexed about why, in this age of social media that have been almost universally embraced, we portray a half-life of only positive news to a much wider circle. Are we that insecure? A little honest pain, lovingly shared, would mean so much more than endless words of good cheer, especially when the hurdles we face include people we love in situations we find difficult. Maybe in the case of Facebook friends, more is less.
My moment of truth: As a mother of young adults whom I love beyond measure, I’ve faced challenges I never imagined would come my way. I feel some measure of kinship toward any parent who shares a story of anxiety, fear, disappointment, embarrassment, or sadness about some of the choices their children have made. What a refreshing, unguarded, and risky glimpse into the hurdles he or she has faced in life. And what a testament to friendship. There is nothing more comforting and supportive than hearing another person say, “I know how that feels. Maybe I can help you deal with that (depression/addiction/divorce/mental heath) hurdle in front of you.” Or this: “It’s hard, right? Hard to hold on to the love when you feel so much pain. When you’re sort of terrified about what may lie ahead.” And this: “It gets better.”
I don’t see that on Facebook.
And I don’t see this as a “perspective” thing; as a simple glass half full or half empty construction. We’re losing touch with the very real circumstance—maybe for an entire generation—of intermittency, of the vicissitudes of life. Of the concept that sometimes things are incredible and other times incredibly painful. In one of my favorite essay books of all time, Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh observes the waves on the shore and concludes, “each cycle of the tide is valid, each cycle of the wave is valid, each cycle of a relationship is valid.” None perfect, but all valid. Seems to me we give validity to “better/perfect/awesome” and cannot quite recognize anything less.
Our partners, our children, our parents, our friends and family, ourselves…guess what? Not one perfect. Lindbergh reconciles and accepts that, too: “When you love someone you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return.”
But the tide can’t return unless it goes out. Maybe the next time we catch up with a friend, in person or online, we need to have a little more faith in the ebb and flow of life and embrace it, not fear it or, worse, ignore it. Let’s replace the expected but empty “How are you?” with a more surprising but honest “What’s keeping you up at night?”
Let the hurdling begin.
Renee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and also wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, PA, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology,101 Damnations': A Humorists’ Tour of Personal Hells(Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. Her blog, It’s Not Me, It’s You, addresses topics that mystify her on a regular basis.