This I Believe
I believe that life is long. And I believe that sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down.
I came to believe these simple truths when times were tough and I was down. It was fall 2004. I didn’t have a steady long-term job, my newborn twin sons were in neo-natal intensive care at a children’s hospital while my wife was living in the Ronald McDonald House by herself recovering from two back-to-back abdominal surgeries, I was commuting 60 miles back and forth in the middle of the night many times each week and I had mis-diagnosed an impacted wisdom tooth as stress and was taking care of it by swallowing 8-10 Advil at a time 2-3 times a day – to give a brief summary of the lowlights of daily life.
So what did I do? Well, what was there to do? The comforts that seemed available – philosophies explaining the value of suffering, encouraging faith in God, self-help bromides about tapping into my inner reserve of courage and trust — meant very little, as if the answer to this mess had more to do with making coherent meaning than it did with a nice, hot meal, a sleeping pill, and a few hours of rest. The answer for me was a straightforward push to get through it. Don’t try to find meaning — simply get through it.
If there was a consoling idea that I kept coming back to, however, it was only that, as I said earlier, life is long and sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down.
It’s not necessarily a lot harder to believe that this is true when times are good and I’m feeling up, it’s simply harder to care that it’s true. I mean, who wants to remind oneself that as good as it feels to have a healthy family living under one roof, a steady job, 4 fewer wisdom teeth, and a full bottle of Advil, this, too, is also temporary? That this too shall pass. But it remains true nonetheless, at least for me, and the reason it matters in the flush times as well as the lean times is because it tempers my judgment of myself and of others.
I look back with embarrassment and humility when I think of the people I encountered – occasionally befriending, but more often likely antagonizing — during that fall and I think to myself, I hope people don’t remember me like that. I hope the people who met me then could see me now – different than I was, not always a lot better that I was, but at least a little better. And it helps me realize that when I meet someone new who rubs me the wrong way at work or at the grocery store or in a class – someone who is defensive, or hostile, or argumentative, or curt – that they may not really be like this. That it would be unwise, hasty, thoughtless, even cruel of me to judge someone when they might be feeling down-and-out, ornery, depressed, or defeated. No one deserves to be judged at a low moment like that – and certainly not judged with the smug righteousness that comfort allows.
For me, keeping in mind that life is long and that sometimes everyone is up and sometimes everyone is down, gives me hope that that I can be appreciative enough to be humble when my life is good, understanding enough to be sympathetic to others when their lives are not, and open to the idea that we should all be lucky enough to have do-overs when we can get them.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.