Every one of us has had those moments (if you haven’t, just wait—you will) where everything changes in an instant.
Sometimes it’s amazing—you get the call that you got the job, your love proposes marriage, the little stick turns blue and voila you’re a parent... and the million other awesome things that can happen unexpectedly. But then there are the other times... someone runs a red light, and through no fault of your own, you find yourself in your car that’s now totaled with an arm or a leg that won’t move. Or you get a call from your doctor herself (not the office staff), saying she wants to see you about the test results. Today. The diagnosis is a word you’ve never heard before. It isn’t good. Surgery has already been scheduled, and treatment follows immediately thereafter. Or you get a call from your son’s cell phone, only when you answer, it’s not your son. It’s the police officer on the scene. You can’t believe what you’re hearing. You don’t want to believe it. This can’t be happening. Suddenly, today’s plans are completely irrelevant. Your bad hair cut no longer matters. Hurt feelings over not getting invited to your friend’s party are ridiculous. Being passed over for a promotion is inconsequential. The purple Kool-Aid that spilled on your carpet is meaningless. Priorities are instantly rearranged. So, if events that are completely outside of our control can change our lives in an instant, what are we to do? We’ll be miserable if we walk around fearful of impending doom. Conversely, we can’t realistically walk around expecting only awesome things to happen. If we’ve lived long enough to have had one of those horrible “suddenlies” in our lives, we know that we’re fooling ourselves if we live our lives believing that nothing bad will ever happen. We also know that there are beautiful things that have happened in our lives, and we don’t want to diminish their significance. If we take inventory of our life experiences, chances are, the beautiful events far outnumber the ugly ones. The key to maintaining peace and joy despite what may come next is to find the balance of what I call “realistic optimism.” The truth is that if we’re not careful, the awful “suddenlies” can overshadow all the good things that happen in our lives. After a devastating event, we can easily slip into the trap of living with an underlying anxiety that any minute the phone will ring with more bad news, that every new ache is a death sentence, or that when we’re back in a vehicle, we’re seized with fear about another car barreling into us at full speed. Worse, after we’ve experienced the excruciating pain of an irreparable event, like the sudden death of a loved one, we can spiral into a living hell of continuously experiencing the pain of the awful event, even years after the tragedy occurred. When we feel emotions with the same intensity that we felt when the life-changing event happened (commonly referred to as Post Traumatic Stress) we are incapable of experiencing joy or authentic peace. The answer to this phenomenon of living with the sense of impending doom or with the painful emotions of something that happened (but is no longer happening), is to hit the reset button.
Hitting the reset button of our life acknowledges what's happened, that we can't change it, and that we’re still breathing, and therefore, we still have the responsibility to live our lives. We still have the opportunity to find and fulfill the good plans for our lives. It gives us permission to cast off the blanket of sadness that we’ve snuggled up into. It leads us to quit drinking from the cup filled with the concoction of emotions of anger, sense of unfairness, and a loss of faith in God and/or humanity. It encourages us to breathe deeply and slowly and to notice what’s around us, or more importantly who is around us. When we hit the reset button, we begin to live in the moment. One moment at a time. Until finally we are able to achieve a realistic optimism about life.
Sudden events change us and our circumstances. Once the initial shock is over, we have a choice. We can choose to live a life immersed in pain, or we can learn to breathe and to experience peace, and eventually, even joy, unencumbered by remorse or regret of feelings of what we could have, should have, would have, or wish we had done differently.
And when we’re ready, we can mine the lessons out of what we’re been through. When we do that, we find that we have more empathy than we ever did before our painful experiences. We find that along with empathy, we’ve learned how to cope, and we've acquired hard-earned wisdom that we can pass on to others who are where we used to be.
No, things will never be the same as they were. But there will be a new normal. And that’s okay.
Rhonda Sciortino has had her share of "suddenlies," both good and bad. She has created "new normals" after each loss, and also after some awesome events that changed her life forever. She knows of what she writes. Every word of it.