Life’s Interruptions: Are You Making the Most of Them?
Apparently Thomas Jefferson and George Washington experienced a blizzard of similar magnitude to the one we did in Washinton D.C. area last weekend but certainly, it was the biggest recorded dump of snow since official records began. Having come from a place where even a thin layer of ice on a puddle mid-winter was cause for great excitement, I find having the landscape transformed to pure white quite magnificent.
What I have not found quite as magnificent is having my life interrupted. My four children have been home from school since Thursday and, alas, with another snow storm due to arrive tomorrow, they may well be off all week. Ukurumba…there goes those plans of mine!
Yet as I sit here with my homemade latte beside my keyboard (the esspresso machine I gave Andrew for Christmas has been worth its weight in gold these last few housebound days!), I can’t help but think about how this storm, with all the interruptions and inconveniences it has brought with it, is a valuable analogy for the bigger storms that come our way through life.
The problem isn’t that things happen in life that completely throw us off our plans, it is that we expect anything otherwise. Many years ago, midway through the second trimester of pregnancy with my first child, I discovered that it had died. It was New Year’s Eve 1996. To me that baby was already born. I was already a proud mother. But then, in the span of several minutes, without any signs to warn me, I discovered I wasn’t pregnant. I wasn’t going to have that cherished baby. That this new little life inside me was no more. And along with the end of that life, so too ended the plans I had for the year to come — to leave my job, to become a mother. After two more miscarriages I did have a successful pregnancy and on February 1998 I gave birth to a beautiful and healthy 9 pound boy. Lachlan (pictured above enjoying the snow yesterday) will be 12 this Saturday.
What I learnt from that first miscarriage (a lesson reinforced with other four miscarriages that I had on my way to having four children) was that we are never in control of our plans. Life is too big, too complex, too fragile, too unpredictable and far too uncontrollable to ever expect that we can have things all unfold the way we would like them to. Life just doesn’t work like that. As the saying goes, “Life is what happens while you are making other plans.”
Yes, for me in the realm of children, it was a happy ending with four healthy children. But for some it is not a happy ending. Well at least not the happy ending they would have ideally wanted. For some women, they never get to have the children they crave for. For my brother Frank, who was paralyzed from the waist down two years ago next month, he may never feel the ground beneath his feet again. For those who have lost people they love, had careers derailed, felt the sting of betrayal, suffered from addiction or made a mistake that could never be unmade, the reality they face may never be what they would have ideally wanted it to be.
It is when life does not unfold as we would want that we face the profound choice of how we will respond to the reality around us. Just as I could curse the snow that keeps my kids home from school today, so too we can curse the gods that brought illness and disappointment, suffering and sorrow, hardship and tragedy, into our lives. Or we can open our arms to the experience, we can look for the meaning, receive the lesson and accept the challenge to grow in our capacity for life that they bring.
The English poet Samual Johnson wrote, “Men are wise in proportion not to their experience but to their capacity for experience.” Who knows why bad things happen to good people, why some people seem to be faced with so much more suffering and misfortune than others, why opportunity and prosperity seem to fall into the laps of some yet elude the diligent efforts of others. I certainly don’t. What I do know though is that each of us are here to experience life to its fullest, to come to know our capacity for all of life — its joy and its rawness, its love and its loss — and, in doing so, to touch the life of others around us by the courage in which we live our own.
So today I will celebrate another day at home with my noisy, rowdy and not very tidy children. I am so blessed to have them. And while I’ve never been enamored with the idea of homeschooling, today I will give it a whirl… at least for an hour… or maybe 20 minutes. Who knows, I might even learn something from the experience.
And wherever this finds you right now, whatever interruptions threaten to disrupt the normal (if there is a “normal”) flow of your life, I encourage you to invite them in with grace, with self-trust and with a spirit of curiosity for the gifts they hold. It is those interruptions – unwanted, inconvenient and uncomfortable as they may be – that ultimately expand your capacity for life and enrich your experience of life the most.
Question: When was the last time you accepted life’s interruptions and turned what could be a negative experience into a positive gift? Please share your thoughts.