"Every Day is a Gift." -- unknown
"Life is difficult." -- M. Scott Peck, M.D.*
Both of these sentences have been much on my mind over the last several weeks. The first one I found on a wall plaque in a second-hand furniture store. The words resonated with me, especially since the day before I had had a particularly wonderful experience of God's grace. "Yes, indeed," I thought with a smile. On that day, all was right in the world. The second sentence I read after a particularly aggravating day in which I wondered if I would ever be able to not be deeply hurt by the negative remarks of my husband. "Yes, indeed," I thought with a grunt. On that day, the first saying came to mind and I thought, "Yeah, right. Every day is Not a gift."
Why is so hard for us to remember the difficulties on good days, and to remember the good stuff on difficult days? Why do we have such tunnel vision? Why is it always either/or, black or white, good or bad, and very seldom both/and, or gray, or a mixture?
Maybe because either/or, black or white, and good or bad, are simpler constructs and therefore, easier to see and understand than the alternative. At least it seems easier. In reality, it's much harder in the long run to maintain such tunnel vision. The world, and everything in it, is not all positive or all negative, all good or all bad, all high or low. To think that it is requires constant effort, energy, and resistance to reality. Ignoring reality -- both the good and the bad that makes up life -- will cause us much mental and physical pain in the long run. For life will continue to surprise us with its opposite, and turn us around, or upside down, whenever we think it is all one way.
I don't have to look far to see the truth of this. Think of Robin Williams. It is hard to believe there was a more joyful man than him. He exuded wonder and delight. And yet we know that he was also a very unhappy man. Think of Richard Nixon, who is in the news because it is the 40th anniversary of his resignation. We mostly think of him with disgust, and yet he also ended the Vietnam War, ended the draft, gave 18-year-olds the vote, and helped desegregate Southern schools -- all very amazingly good achievements. I was talking to a friend the other day about a school we both taught at. It had a reputation as a tough, gang-riden, school, but we both agreed that it was full of the nicest students we'd ever had the pleasure to teach. Another friend's back disintegrated while on vacation in a most luxurious hotel in gorgeous sea-side town. She could see the beauty around her, but could not move.
For better or worse, life is very ironic. Just when you think "all is right in the world" something beyond your control upsets the apple cart. Just when you think life can't get any worse, you're given a precious gift: of love, of sympathy, of insight.
Somehow we need to learn to accept that this is they way the world is, and remember it, holding these opposites in our minds, at the same time. When we are in the midst of great difficulties, we need to remember that things will get better. When we are in the midst of great joy and happiness, we need to remember that this too is fleeting. We need plaques on our walls that say, "Every day is a gift," but we also need plaques that say, "Life is difficult." And they need to be placed side by side.
Acceptance of reality, both the wonder and the pain, is key. Resistance -- to all that is good, or all that is not good -- is truly futile.
May the peace
which passes understanding
be with you
* from "The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth," pg. 15