“Mostly it is loss which teaches us the worth of things.”
Four years ago today i returned to the surname Hansen after many years away from it (as noted on this blog’s About page). Thoughts about the significance of that change formed a large part of the rationale for starting this project.
As chance would have it, less than three months later, i was diagnosed with cancer. In a longer post a year later i discussed why i wasn’t making that a prominent blog topic.
Anniversaries have a way of spurring us to take stock, to big-picture our everyday experiences. This one is compelling me to ruminate about all that has happened since then. About the way the passage of time can make the exact same event seem like yesterday and like ages ago.
Often i think about how the circumstances i’m dealing with affect others in my life. Coincidentally enough, i recently came across two articles that refer to the experiences of the health-challenged person’s friends and family, both authored by the patients themselves.
The first, by memoirist Cory Taylor, answered questions she was often asked by others in response to learning of her illness. It struck me that my post (linked above) did a little of the same thing — and answered a few of the same questions she did. She noted that the questions she was fielding were all ones she’d already been posing to herself — and that they hadn’t changed over the ten years between her diagnosis and when she wrote the essay.
The second article, by screenwriter Josh Friedman, discussed the role of bravery in dealing with a difficult diagnosis, and whether it’s helpful for well-meaning friends and family to encourage it or compliment the patient for it. His answer to that, in my condensed paraphrase, is this: While appreciated as coming from the best intentions, emphasizing courage can be unhelpful to the degree it prevents well wishers from empathizing with weakness — and to the degree it implicitly though unintentionally suggests that if the illness “wins” it means we patients weren’t brave enough or didn’t fight hard enough.
In my case, i am no longer having to fight the c-word itself; it was successfully defeated for now as far as the docs can tell. There are, however, ongoing battles related to the fall-out from various past treatments. Argh – i keep catching myself using warrior language; much as i might favor a fresher framework, it’s very hard to get away from.
It’s also true that almost everybody is struggling with something — something no less (and maybe more) difficult just because it’s not out in the open — whether physical, emotional, relational or all of the above.
So let me use this date-marker to remind myself and others that what helps us most to not give up is knowing there are others who know where we are. (By the way, that goes for not giving up on dreams as well as not giving up in our struggles.)
And now that, according to the calendar, this blog is exiting its toddler phase, i want to express my gratitude to who all who’ve dropped by here and have hopefully found something of interest.
The plans we map out for ourselves rarely follow their set course without detours.
The exploring post i wrote earlier this year commended the courage of those that set out to sea, into the perilous unknown.
Some of us who do not see ourselves as brave, though, are thrust out to sea against our will. And all we can do is make our way to some sort of shore, on an adventure we didn’t choose. In the process (to paraphrase the old saying), facing one’s impending demise wonderfully concentrates the mind.
I do not know anyone who has not been wronged by another person.
In fact, i don’t know anyone who would say they have been wronged only once. Many of us could recite a litany of slights, large and small.
If we are self-aware enough, we know that we wrong others as well, whether unintentionally or deliberately.
Integrity requires that we do what is reasonable and within our power to make things right. Deciding whether to re-approach someone we’ve hurt (or who has hurt us) usually isn’t easy, and depends on the magnitude of the offense, the closeness of the person and how long ago it took place.
It’s rather futile, though, to ‘require’ integrity of someone else. There may be compelling reasons to confront them anyway. And that’s what this essay is about.
Within the past few months, i found myself presented with two opportunities to address two unrelated past injustices toward me. (Both original situations were severe enough to solicit legal assistance.)
The first of those past events happened several years ago. The chance to go back to it sprang up unexpectedly after all that time — a window that opened suddenly and would close swiftly.
The other event happened only a year and a half ago, and deliberating over what, if anything, to do about it constituted a process of several months.
In either case, letting the past rest untouched was as rational an option as choosing to re-open the difficult drama. Leaving the past alone meant preserving whatever peace i’d managed to arrive at, whereas re-entering the fray would be aimed at reminding those responsible that what they did was wrong, even though they’d got away with it.
In both cases, i ultimately chose to confront the persons involved — one face to face, the other by way of a legal action.
Neither outcome was entirely satisfactory — but then, defining what to be satisfied by is part of the processing.
Here’s what i’ve concluded about the considerations involved and about whether it was worthwhile:
Positive results beyond that are gravy.
Exploration is exhausting, and discovery is demanding. Sure, serendipity happens — but more often than not, unearthing self-shaping insights requires dogged determination.
My previous post consists of the following quote by French author Andre Gide: “One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” I’ve seen it translated from the French with two different wordings. The other version uses “courage” rather than “consent,” an intriguing difference.
I’ve often pondered the courage of the famous world explorers who placed themselves at the mercy of the seas without certainty of what they would find or of how long it would take to find it — unable to imagine myself capable of or interested in such risks. After all, one person’s courage is another’s utter lunacy.
Their eager consent to the perils of the unknown must have been driven by a conviction that the prize they sought would prove the undertaking worthwhile. That principle presents an obvious analogy to the creative process, or to any process of self-discovery.
We write to discover. A writer’s blank page is her wide open ocean.
A writer or other artist explores some inner experience in order to interpret it and then convey it openly. We hope not only to gain our own insights but also to open up trade routes with our readers and fellow writers, exchanging further treasures of realization.
The artistic endeavor is contemplation twice rewarded.
When i write, i find i often arrive (a la Columbus) somewhere other than where i’d thought i was aiming. How often has it happened to you that you set fingers to keyboard with one idea only to uncover a different and unexpected one? There’s your serendipity, by the way, your accidental bounty — but it doesn’t come without resolve and perseverance.
At times, our expeditions away from the the firmness of the shore are thrust upon us unsought, imposed on us outside of our choosing. A job loss, a dire diagnosis, a personal tragedy confronts us with a maelstrom of confusion and uncertainty. The disrupting circumstance happens outside of our control, but how we navigate through it is up to us.
When the waves are crashing over the bow, we can strive to keep our hands on the ship’s wheel or give in to the winds and be blown overboard. What keeps us holding on is the dual hope that there is land out there somewhere and that the winds will eventually die down.
Any survivor will tell you that such storms teach you more about who you are than times of tranquility do. Indeed, torrent-taught people seem to find a deeper tranquility than is otherwise accessible to the untossed.
In calmer times, when all you want is to fill that blank page with something artistic that your reader will relate to, it still takes persistence to sort the cross-currents of your mind and to resist that sinking feeling that maybe the voyage wasn’t worth it after all.
It’s all part of the swirl. Your inner Magellan — your hopeful human heart — knows better.