It’s been quite an emotionally draining week of struggling to come to terms with unexpected and tragic loss. The heavens were sorrowfully weeping with torrential tears at the funeral with the sudden arrival of an angel in its midst. It was the heart-wrenching wailings and tears that made me think about a recent David Brook’s oped piece, “What Suffering Does.” Having had an unwanted but seminal volcanic epiphany in 1991, having survived a bout with cancer in 2004, and somehow “miraculously” having come through an unexpected massive cerebral hemorrhage unscathed in 2007, I know what he is talking about: there’d be no bravery or courage if everything in life was without challenge and all was hunky-dory anymore than there would be any learning without failing. But, I wouldn’t use the word “suffering.” It’s too narrow for me. I prefer the broader and more inclusive term “experience.” Yet, I don’t think suffering or experience have much intrinsic worth. I mean, so you’ve gone through stuff; or, as have I, you’ve looked into the abyss. So what! What are you going to do with it? Is it a spur? And, if so, what are you going to learn from it? How can you better yourself because of it?
You see, using Brook’s word, while there is a lot of suffering around and in us, there also can be lot of dealing with, coming to terms with, casting off, overcoming, and getting up and keep moving within us as well. That is to say, experiences need a catalyst to acquire a meaning. That ingredient is “And so?” honest reflection. That honest and deep reflection, that looking at yourself in the mirror, gives you a shape-shifting option: to see how what you might let bring you down can give you a leg up; how it can morph challenge from barricade into possibility and opportunity; how it can transform mill stones into dream catchers; how it can offer the ability to bring the blessing of gift out from under the weight of curse; how it can offer a power to choose the way you see life; how it can offer you the way you live life; how it can give you a strength to push away adversity; how it can give you a power over frustration and disappointment; and how it can give you the strength and courage not to succumb to views and demands of others.
But, for too many, looking back is TMI. How many of us really want to hear the past voices of ourselves? Not many. I sure didn’t want to on that fateful day in September, 1991. In fact, I sobbed. Of course, the truth is that you can’t help it. As an historian, I can tell you that the silent and unseen, buried, rationalized away, or otherwise past is always present. More often than not, reflection is a hard, maybe painful, autobiographical interview and confession. Sure, you’ll hear stories that might surprise you, tighten you up, make you shudder, hurt, hurl pangs of pain, tear your eyes up, induce a shudder, cause a nervous laugh, and/or create a smile. But, you’ll also may be able eventually, as did I, to empathize and even sympathize, to see possibility, and to seize opportunity. Each chapter in your story will help explain parts of who you were, are, and maybe will become. For me, reflection is crucial, for it pulled and still pulls me deeper into myself, beneath the surface of daily routine, to plug into the passion of my soul. It’s a reverse macro lens that broadens into a wide-angle lens. Reflection can take a negative cursed experience and give it a positive blessed bent if you ask yourself, “How can I grow and learn from it?” It gives me a living serenity prayer, better knowing what I can and cannot control.
Now, reflection is not something you can be phlegmatic about or bog yourself down in wonky talk about “vision” “priority,” “empowering,” ”authenticity,” and “meaning.” For me, having “down and dirty,” “foot in the real world” reflections on my experiences has given me a holistic serenity with which I have deeply engaged, with which I have become enmeshed, and which has allowed me to live at a place closer to self acceptance and peaceful power.