Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Good Side of Disaster

I while back I wrote an essay for the NPR series "This I Believe." My essay was recorded by WRNI in Rhode Island and broadcast several times there. (It used to be available online, but I can't find it now). Anyway, the producer emailed in 2009 to tell me that mine was one of the most popular and would I please submit another. 

It took me two years, but today I felt inspired and wrote my second essay. Who knows if it will every see airwaves, but you, dear readers, get a sneak peek. Hope you like.

There are moments in life when, out of the blue, all the clues line up. The pretty veils of illusion part, and suddenly you can see all the way to the very bottom of the deep dark truth. Your stomach drops to your knees. Your heart leaps into your throat. And there it is. You know it. You’re about to lose your job. Your best friend has been lying to you. Someone you love is dead, which means — not as obviously as you might think — they’re never coming back. Your husband is having an affair. You don’t have to wait for the doctor to tell you. You already know. It’s cancer.

I have had many such moments. All of the above, in fact, and more. Sometimes I fell apart. Sometimes I talked myself out of it, trying valiantly to think positive, to not jump to conclusions, to trust.

Ultimately, there’s no way around the truth. And avoiding it is exhausting, if not life-threatening.

So I believe in falling apart.

I believe in the fabulous life-expanding power of falling all the way to the bottom of the well. I believe in tears and the teeth-chattering knee-knocking nervous sweat of facing your worst fears made manifest. If I can manage it, I play the sympathy card, gather all the support around me that I can, and just plain face it.

As awful as it feels in the moment, I love it when the map I’ve plotted for my life gets ripped out from under me. It’s like waking up from a dream, a dream where I’ve limited my life’s possibilities to those that don’t scare me.

If I can face an unimaginable surprise divorce and find pleasure in being alone, even for five minutes, then I can also experience the wild joy of a new relationship, a much better relationship than I ever thought possible. If I can face a cancer diagnosis and the — cancer or not —inevitability of death, then I can risk a slew of personal and professional rejections, and maybe a few heretofore unimagined successes.

I think of circus fleas, confined to a test-tube laid on its side. After banging into the low, invisible ceiling of the tube, these natural high-jumpers give up jumping altogether. Even when freed they don’t dare jump. They’ve been conditioned to accept a limited life.

Whether we realize it or not, our lives are not taking place in a test tube. Disaster can come along at any moment and smack you right in the face. If it does, please accept my sincere condolences. And my advice:

Let yourself feel it. You are not safe, nor are you limited.


SN said...

Absolutely brilliant Amy. Me definitely love!!!!

Lisa said...

You are a powerful writer.

Paula said...

I remember your first "This I Believe" essay, too. This one is equally beautiful. I hope NPR airs it. I love the flea analogy.

I use the "This I Believe" essays with my college students, and the essays they write, too, are some of the most profound and empathy building moments of our semester. One of my favorite is by a community college student Daniel Flanagan on second chances/do-overs.

Congratulations, too, on finishing chemo AND radiation. What a major hurdle. You are ready to jump!!! Jump high!

LittleOddMe said...

Ohhhhh.... wonderful. Just absolutely marvelous. Thank you!

Noel Veva said...

This is superb. And representative of many of my thoughts and feelings and choices the past few years.

Thank you.

Gail Pierce said...

Stellar! It feels like you tapped into my brain and emotions when you wrote this! I too believe in completely falling apart and only then can I put the pieces back together. Everyone I know doesn't think that way so they don't like hearing me say that and want me to stay positive at all times. Ha! Walk in my shoes! Love your writing!