Your hardest thing is your hardest thing.
I recently re-found a journal that I used in Spring 2008 when I was enrolled in a Leadership course. It was an elective in my doctoral program and one of the best academic experiences of my life. As part of the class, we were to journal- thoughts, reflections, quotes that stuck with us, etc. I kicked it old school and hand wrote all my thoughts.
My life in spring 2008 was very different from today. At the time, I had two healthy children. L was 2.5 and C was a nursing infant. S would bring the boys to my classroom every Tuesday night. S and L would go get dinner at the food court and I would sit in the hallway and feed C while my classmates debated leadership theory. I tried to leave the classroom door open and sit as close as possible so I could still hear what they were saying.
The final entry in my journal is dated April 26, 2008. The prompt was from our instructor Marilyn, “What is your heroic journey?” My response, written in pink, roller-ball pen was:
I don’t want to toot my own horn…but I really think that ‘this’ is my heroic journey. ‘This’ is being a full-time mom,PhD student, wife…w/ being a part-time professional. This is the hardest I’ve ever worked; the most reading & writing I’ve ever done; the most tired I’ve ever been; the most content and energized I’ve ever been.
I am my choices. I choose to be here. I choose to be a mom, wife, student…student, wife, mom…wife, mom, student. This is MY LIFE- OUR LIFE and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve survived the crucible, learned from it, and moved on. Isn’t that a heroic journey??
Less than 8 months after that post, L was diagnosed with cancer. I was so naive, so blissfully unaware. At the time, though, that was the only perspective I had. At the time, what I wrote was my hardest thing. Re-reading that passage made me angry and sad. I wish that my hardest thing was being a poor, tired, nursing mother and student. I wish that my only concerns were sleeping through the night and how I would pay for next semester’s tuition.
Cancer stole L’s innocence. And mine, too.
I see friends, mothers, bloggers post (complain) on Twitter and Facebook about their kids. Broken arms, the flu, stomach viruses, ear infections. My tolerance for these minor (to me) complaints is very, very low. I read these posts and I want to scream, to shake people into awareness, to make people care. In my head, I am not gracious. I am mean, impatient, annoyed.
I try to not act on those feelings and I am not proud of them. But, I do feel them. All of what happened to L and to us is so wrong, so unnatural, and so unfair. But, the world kept spinning. Friends kept living their lives. I do not want them to experience what I did and I would do everything we were forced to do again if I knew that it would save L. I just wish that I didn’t know what I know.
Sometimes, in the deep, dark places…I think that the perspective I gained from L’s diagnosis, treatment, and subsequent long-term care makes me better than others. God, that sounds arrogant. I know this is not true. Before L was diagnosed, my hardest thing was negotiating school and motherhood. For some people, their hardest thing might be a child’s surgery to get ear tubes or an appendectomy. Cognitively, I get it. I am not any better than anyone else. Just different.
My hardest thing was my hardest thing. (And, what if L’s cancer diagnosis turns out not to be the hardest thing?)
While L was in treatment, friends of our went through divorce proceedings. When they told us about it they said something to the effect of, “I feel bad even saying this to you. I can’t imagine going through cancer with your kid.” To which we said, “I can’t imagine getting divorced!”
Your hardest thing is your hardest thing. It’s not a contest. It’s not a race. Part of leaning in to this “new normal” is how to deal with all this stuff. All this messy, icky stuff.
Perspective is everything. It’s really the only thing. I pray that God continues to give me grace to see.