The Best of Times
The other day a friend said to me, “I bet you will be glad when this year comes to an end- it’s been such a tough one for you.” That sort of took me by surprise, as I haven’t really thought about the collective challenges that Dan and I faced this year; the illness and death of my mother, knee surgery for Dan, shoulder surgery for me, my hearing issues, and most recently, the dissolution of UAB’s football team, which because of its impact on our marching band will greatly affect my job, as recruiting will become quite difficult. When I look at that list, is is a bit overwhelming…but there were also incredible gifts to come out of each of these opportunities- and I do mean opportunities- as well. It is all about perspective.
So often we see only the negatives we face in life, and to me, that is such a loss. Life is precious and beautiful in each of its facets, and I want to embrace it all, letting it wash over me and burnish me with its fire. We aren’t guaranteed a life of sunshine and roses, and I don’t think I would want that. It takes a mixture of light and dark to both help us grow as humans and to develop a true appreciation for what comes our way. This year has taught me a great deal; I learned how strong and brave my mother was, how strong I am, how much I am loved, what a wonderful treasure trove of friends I have, how strong my marriage is, how much my music means to me, how important writing has become in my life, and that sometimes ‘normal life’ has to stop so that you can be there for a loved one. So many important things that perhaps I wouldn’t have realized had I not had the experiences I did.
I’m not going to pretend that I have reached a spiritual plane that allows me to always see these gifts in the moment. I am very much human, flawed to the core, but I am learning more and more to stop and think when challenges arise, to not jump right into the litany of “woe is me”, but to look for the light- it is always there somewhere. Everything that comes into our lives was brought there for a purpose, and I need to remain open to the big picture and not just the inherent struggle of individual events.
So, what did I say to my friend? I told him that I was so blessed to be with my mother at the end of her life, to share that sacred passage with her. That surgeries taught Dan and me what a loving and devoted relationship we have. That my hearing issues made me appreciate the beauty of music and sound all the more and work harder to prevent further damage. That our music program at UAB will rise to the challenge and go in new and innovative directions that will only make our program stronger. A gratitude list is so much more helpful than a struggle list, and it only takes a slight shift in our perspective to focus on the good that can arise from challenges.
Yesterday morning, I played a church concert for my dear friend, Terre Johnson, who spoke beautifully at Mom’s celebration and ministered to her at the end of her life. I sat in the Baptist church, steeped in the traditions in which I grew up but no longer embrace. I looked at Terre’s smiling face as he cued my solos, and I was transported back to the hospital, seeing this kind man listen patiently to my mother’s concerns about her afterlife, bringing her peace when she needed it most. The music touched my heart, and the tears began to flow as I played. Yet another gift to arise from sadness- the compassion and caring of friends. I went home and made cookies for my students, bringing back memories of the hundreds of cookies I’ve made for my sweet Wayward Seniors. Each memory so precious to me, none of which would have happened without the challenges that brought me to them.
Yes, this year has had its share of sadness and challenge, but I will never wish for a year to be over, for life to rush past me. I am grateful for the good and the perhaps not-so-good, grateful for life, grateful for the beauty of being given the choice to view events in a more hopeful and positive light. I have to believe that a mindset of hope, acceptance, and positivity can only make life more meaningful. Each year that passes brings new lessons, new wisdom, and I will always make the choice to look for the light breaking through the darkness. These truly are the best of times- this is life.