Childhood is a kind of bubble of naiveté that protects us while we are learning about ourselves and the world around us. Some children like myself experience tragedy early in their lives and such events become cautionary tales for them. Hurt and loss changes little ones in varying ways. I suppose that in spite of the fears that lie at the bedrock of my personality I was somehow able to develop somewhat normally into a healthy adult who is perhaps a bit less adventurous than I might other wise have been. The shock of losing my father after a long journey to and then back from California left me quietly confused and desirous of clinging to any form of security that I might find.
I blanketed myself in the luxury of routine and a certain level of isolation from the realities of the world. I spent the remainder of my growing up years in relative ignorance of hurt and intrigue. I became resilient and once again confident by living a quiet and somewhat uneventful life inside the little neighborhood from which my family and I rarely needed to venture save to visit with my grandparents and my aunts, uncles and cousins.
I cared little about world affairs or intrigue of any sort. It was not until I was fifteen and in high school that I once again faced death when my beloved grandmother developed cancer and died. That was about the same time that President Kennedy was assassinated while he was visiting Dallas. I went into the same state of shock and grief that I had felt when my father died. I wanted to look away, to somehow pretend that such events were not really part of our human experience. I buried the fears that I inside my heart and pretended that I was stronger than I actually felt.
Like so many of us so often do I ignored my feelings and stoically moved forward, avoiding contact with negative thoughts or people or situations. I tried to make life a fairytale forgetting that the theme of all such stories revolves around triumph over hardship. It was not until I was twenty years old and I saw mental illness take hold of my mother that I realized there was no running away from the tragedies that each of us must face. I had to become fearless without warning or practice and it was painful.
For some time I hid my reality as though it were some ugly thing that defined me and my family. I did not share with others. Instead I dealt with the situation hoping that my mother would be cured and I would be able to move forward as though nothing had ever happened. Of course her chronic illness kept jerking me back into a dark world that was confusing and painful beyond measure. It was only when I freed myself from the constraints that I had placed on my willingness to face the truth that I began to see the world around me in all of its good and bad iterations.
By becoming honest with myself and with the people that I knew I developed more and more trust even in the face of seemingly hopeless situations. I saw that there is always someone willing to help if only I had the courage to ask. I found friendships and relationships that made me a better person each time that I reached out for understanding and assistance. By facing the toughness of life I actually began to see its true beauty more clearly.
There are patterns among human beings that repeat themselves over and over again through the centuries. How we deal with our longings and our sorrows may change ever so slightly as we learn from the mistakes of our ancestors but the basic feelings are in total harmony with every man and woman who has ever walked on this earth. We strive for happiness while enduring the inevitable sorrows. None of us will make it through life without scars, but if we are very lucky and willing to embrace those situations with wisdom and determination we will surely learn from them.
I know so many who are suffering at this very moment. It hurts me to see their pain and to know that in some cases there is so little that I might do to help them. I offer small bits of encouragement knowing that theirs is a season of sorrow through which they must walk. In other cases there are tangible things that I am able to do because of the resources that I am blessed to have. Mostly I simply demonstrate how much I care because I have learned that even the tiniest bit of generosity has the power of bringing joy to a broken or frightened heart.
We should never underestimate our power to say or do exactly what someone needs in a dark moment. Thoughtfulness and openness are like healing salves when administered at just the right moment. From my own experiences I know for certain that small gestures of love are never forgotten. It may be a neighbor lighting the pilot light of a heater on a cold winter’s day who brings hope or a pot of soup delivered by a friend that begins the process of healing.
I see the faces of those who took the time to comfort me when my father died and then my mother. I know exactly who extricated me from the darkest times of my life. I have never forgotten how impactful their kindnesses were. They remind me even when I am feeling low that I am not as alone as I might sometimes believe. I may stumble and skin my knees in this grand adventure called life but I will always find a hand reaching out to save me. I have learned time and again that there are very good people just waiting to be at my side and in that knowledge I have become very strong.