How could such a gloriously sunny day bring such terribly bad news? And why is it that it always takes such tragedies and painful occurrences for us to (finally) gain some perspective, a new take on what really matters in life?
Today, after an amazingly peaceful walk from the Old Port to the Atwater market, after a day of much-needed fresh air, sunshine, quiet and simplicity, I came home to a haunting phone call. I was first asked, “Did you hear what happened?” which immediately caused my heart to sink and my stomach to turn. “No,” I answered, fearfully, wincing already. I found out that a very close friend of my father’s — a friend dear to our whole family — had suddenly lost his son and his ex-wife last night, in a house fire, and only his youngest son was able to escape.
I don’t actually remember what I said in response. I just remember feeling intense pain and paralyzing shock, and trying to picture (all the while fighting not to picture) what the father must be thinking and feeling right now, to have lost them so suddenly, so stupidly, so permanently. It is unfathomable to me. I cannot come to terms with such grief or even imagine how one could bear to go on, how it could ever feel better, how the sun could help you get up in the morning ever again. His kids have always been his whole life, his world. Phone pressed to my ear, my mind raced and I distinctly saw photograph after photograph of him flanked by his two boys, at family events, on ordinary days, on their birthdays.
Birthdays. A cruel trick for Life to play — it was the boy’s birthday today. He turned fourteen and was at his mom’s celebrating with her and his eleven year-old brother. He had also really wanted to spend this day with his dad and had told him so before he left. But the fate of a child with separated parents is that he/she must often have two birthday parties, and this weekend, he’d be with his mom.
It was not until I got off the phone that I started wailing. I have always had a phobia of fire, since I was young, to the point where it took me years to feel comfortable around candles and fireplaces, and even now at twenty-six years old I cannot light a match. To think of flames and black smoke and no way out for them is devastating to me. To think of such trauma after an innocent family birthday party is even more devastating. And to think of my friend’s life without one of his boys, and without a woman he was once so close to … leaves me simply without words.
Except these ones: It is not worth it to fight, to stay angry, to badmouth, to complain. It is not worth it for little things, even if, at that moment, it may seem like these things are absolutely important to you (to us). It is not worth it, ever, to use hurtful words in a heated argument without thinking of their repercussions and, especially, to let time pass before making amends. It is not worth it to blame, to dwell on “he said, she said“s and to blindsightedly focus on past injuries rather than making an effort to move on, amicably. It is not worth it to feel irritated by stupidities and to get riled up over something a stranger did, or things we cannot control.
In all honesty, this past week was a somewhat negative one for me. I felt burdened by some family tension, some stress associated with my PhD work, some health issues. On Tuesday, I felt so bothered by it that I actually wrote out a list. A “list of worries”. I spat them all out, on paper, without censoring them. My goal was to actively rationalize the “not-worth-it worries” out, in the end. I never got a chance to finish that exercise, because my week got too crazy. I don’t even have to take the sheet of paper out of my bag and I already know that almost every worry (if not all) on that list is now irrational in comparison. It’s really sad and disappointing that these lessons are learned in the saddest possible ways.
My heart really hurts tonight, and my head is spinning. I don’t understand Life at all, on most days. It can be immensely beautiful and touching, yet can leave you feeling robbed and hollow on other days, and it’s not easy to tell whether it even balances out, in the end. And no one is immune to its twists, turns and tricks, unfortunately. So let’s please, please hold on to some perspective when we can. Not just when something like this happens, and not just for a few days. But really try. Even if we need concrete reminders, like a post-it on our bedroom mirror or in our agenda, or a rational exercise when Perspective seems to be slipping away. It can only make life better, fuller, and maybe – hopefully – with fewer regrets.