Fear. Illness. Disappointment. Anxiety.
The words dangle before my eyes, suspended in midair as if to taunt me. They hang in the balance as constant reminders of what is now. I close my eyes tightly, hoping the words will disappear. But when I open them they dance wildly as if to mock me for the hope that went unanswered.
I know I don’t have the corner on pain and sadness. But I’ve had more than my share, in ways I never imagined.
People mean well when they offer trite platitudes like “When one door closes another one opens” or “We get as much as the Lord thinks we can handle” but those maxims were created by people looking for easy answers. They’ve never stopped anyone’s anxieties.
Whatever lessons I’ve learned came from the brilliance of others who offered hope and resilience through words or action.
When I was thirteen my brother gave me the book “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran. I quickly devoured it. As I allowed the words to wash over me something powerful happened. My inner spirit came to life as if there was a birth. And there was. It was the beginning of my passion for philosophy and spirituality. I felt my inner spirit coming out of the darkness and into the light.
Gibran offered me a way to look at life through a different lens. Changing your perspective can change your world.
The words of great philosophers, poets and men and women of peace give us comfort during troubled times. Ordinary folks living their lives with integrity, dignity and compassion provide us with examples to live by.
They all give us the tools to live an honorable life in an imperfect world. Living is not determined by what life brings to us but by the attitude we bring to it.
At a young age I learned that my attitude would be the key to living a life of joy and passion. Little did I know how handy this would be at a seminal moment in my life when, at the tender age of twenty-eight, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and became part of the disability community. I leaned on the philosophy of Gibran to help me face my greatest challenge.
Buddhism helped me deal with adversity. When things fall apart, feel lucky instead of angry. Yes, lucky. By facing fear we find the courage to grow stronger. Leaning into fear is an opportunity to flourish.
But still, life sometimes hurls bushels of lemons at us and we’re unable to make lemonade. Our troubles seem too difficult to overcome and we think we’ll never recover.
Breathe. Step outside of yourself and look through a new lens. We always have two choices: feel sorry for ourselves or treat the lemons as a gift. Every challenge is either an obstacle or an opportunity to grow. The choice is ours.
My lemon is my chronic illness. It’s a battlefield, a daily war zone of fatigue, pain, weakness, anxiety and even depression.
Yet every day I am grateful for the morning sunrise. I can get out of bed. Dress myself. Bathe myself. Feed myself. I can walk and use both hands. I can hug my husband with both arms. And my son. And my cats. I have work I’m passionate about and the ability to help others feel less frightened and isolated.
And I can make my own choices.
No matter what course my disease takes in the coming years I will remain strong. I will always use my voice to make a difference in the lives of others, and to let the world know that this disabled woman will always matter.
At some point in our lives we will all stand on the precipice of fear and have to choose which direction we want to go.
I choose to live in gratitude, no matter how many lemons are thrown my way. I count my blessings, turn toward fear and keep my head in the direction of the sun to face another challenge. Nothing is going to hold me back. Because, as my favorite quote by Rumi says:
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”