“Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?”
– John Keats
Of the infinite little things that make life a uniquely beautiful experience, perhaps the most alluring of it all lies within the inconsistencies. So often when we think of the past, the most painful and heartfelt parts are minimized to tiny specs as the mind asserts its reluctance to revisit those places again. As if remembering those trying experiences somehow makes us weaker, as if acknowledging their existence somehow prevents us from moving forward.
I believe the opposite to be true. It is only from collecting those experiences and preserving them in a mental gallery to be revisited from time to time are we able to remain grounded and understand how far we have really come. It takes actively remembering and re-evaluating those inconsistencies to truly absorb all of the goodness that can come out of a seemingly painful life event.
In September 2009, I received a phone call that forever changed everything that came after it. In a moment’s flashing, I had notice of a parent’s passing all while dealing with insurmountable pressures coming from all sides. College was on my mind, friends going through hard times, my single mom who worked night and day to make ends meet. And now, this final piece of the trauma jigsaw crashed itself into my life. For the first time ever, I didn’t think that I was going to make it through.
The following months were harrowing to say the least. I lost my sense of self entirely and was living underneath a cloud. I was shut off to the world, and viewed my body as a vessel to move through the days with—devoid of meaning or purpose as a human being. I learned what truly it felt like to look in a mirror day in and day out and not recognize my own face, I felt like I had lost myself entirely. That the girl I knew and loved was surely forever gone. Eventually things turned around for the better, and regular visits to the Buddhist temple encouraged me to accept all things that have passed. After a long time spent healing, I learned to help myself move on.
But there was one thing that remained – those months changed me completely as I lost and gained parts of myself that I am still struggling to understand today. A year later in 2010 I woke up feeling that feeling that so many of us who have lived under the cloud yearn for – I had made it out of the tunnel.
So here I was, seemingly a lifetime away from the troubles of the past and faced with a very difficult decision. I could chose to actively forget the little parts of all that I had been through, forget the way each rigid brick felt upon my soft hands as I felt my way through the dark, cold tunnel. I could chose to call it another life and hope for this new path to stay well lit for the rest of time.
Or I could chose to remember with gratitude all the ways in which those trying times have transformed my soul. Those nights spent nearly drowning in my own misery allowed me to explore the deepest and darkest corridors of what it meant to feel. The rock bottom that I began to feel building underneath my own feet was turned into a spring board which I used to propel myself to much happier place. How ungrateful would I be to discount these things as unfortunate memories, to be discarded in the hopes of a better life? It is those very moments that you spend bawling your eyes out in the driver’s seat after a difficult break-up, experiencing grief from loss of a loved one and rejection, and all those other hard feelings that end up becoming the building blocks of your very core.
I read recently that you should feel most proud when you have figured out how to live a consistently happier life. I’m not fully sure what it takes to get there, but I am certain that keeping these heavy memories close has brought me one step further to that goal. I have been able to heighten my empathy for others, and understand their hardships with deeper meaning.
Of the hundreds of things that I have gained from overcoming these hardships, perhaps the greatest of them all is the development of a warming soul.