Find the lesson in it.
If there is one thing that we like to tell ourselves, it is that everything happens for a reason and that heartache and disruption blow through our lives so that they can teach us important lessons that will help us start again. These lessons are supposed to help us become shaky, but stronger, cautious, but more courageous, heartbroken, but hopeful.
It is all part of a grander plan, we are told. We are told this by friends and by family and by New York Times bestselling authors, all people who love to pull out this advice, yet seem so rarely able to gain the kind of perspective that they preach about when something awful happens to them. This is because of the awful, universal, infuriating truth that nobody wants to talk about.
That truth is that it is much easier to see the lesson in someone else’s hardship; it’s easy to look at someone else with the compassion that is so difficult to extend to yourself and ask them to be kind to themselves and to have the patience to wait for the eventual sunrise after the current rainfall. Becoming who you were meant to be is an inside job.
When bad times sweep through your life, it can feel like a petulant child has stormed through it and thrown your toys everywhere. It doesn’t matter that you arranged the toys in the exact formation you wanted. Or that it took you all of your brains and all of your heart to get them to look that way. It doesn’t matter that the toys were in their original packaging and you had come to depend on them as a kind of anchor to your own life. Everything was controlled; you were the master, and now, in this awful, terrible now, you have control of nothing. The veil has slipped and reality has intruded, because you are forced to acknowledge that you were never in control in the first place.
So you search through the wreckage and desperately try to piece together a “lesson,” because that will give you order and control in the face of the messiness that you can’t bear to look at anymore. You have lost someone that you couldn’t stand to lose. You were disappointed more than you thought possible. You asked for what you needed and instead you got nothing. Those things make you a drained battery and searching for a grand plan, some predetermined order, seems like it will recharge you.
And that is great. Look for the lesson. Find the map to all of your broken places and discover how they got broken. But, as with all things, be kind to yourself in the search, don’t allow the pursuit to become an elaborate way to run away; because you will only end up running right back into you.
Don’t beat yourself up if you desperately put everything back together and you can’t make it look like some kind of life-lesson or aha-moment. It’s absolutely fine to admit that the picture of your life has changed color and you can’t explain why; that the thing you didn’t want to happen has happened and you have no explanation as to why.
Because the lesson might come at 3 a.m., when you’re woken up by rain hitting the window. Or you could be walking to work and suddenly realize that your aching heart has begun to strum with just a little more purpose. You might look into the eyes of someone new and realzse, in that second, that the lessons of the past helped you see just how kindly those eyes stare back at you.
Or the lesson might never come, that ashy taste of disappointment and heartbreak might coat your tongue every now and again, reminding you of what you’ve lost in the long battle of your life. But even then the lack of lesson might be the greatest lesson of all. You fought and you lost and you gathered all of your thoughts and feelings and went onto live another day. Maybe you’re a little bruised, but you haven’t been broken. And you’ve learned that you are strong enough to do it all again.