About this time 4 years ago, the big sledgehammer in the sky made a mess of my notions of what my year should be like. Members of three generations in my family were not at all well. Two would slowly mend, and one would die.
It was also a period when the workload of my paying job quadrupled. In the evenings, after making sure my loved ones were safe for the night (or worrying when I wasn't sure), I'd resume my work "day," sometimes finishing around 3 am. I carried on this way for 10 months.
I admire people who can keep up such a pace. But I was not one of them. Eventually I hit the wall. And that was a good thing. I learned that no amount of will or effort on my part would completely restore their health, heal their wounds, or save their lives.
As much as I loved them, as pure as my intentions, as hard as I tried, I could not make them better. It was the first time I careened head-on into the limits of my personal power. I've always been a willful little thing, and until the year of the sledgehammer, that character trait had reliably helped me muscle through tough times or inspired just the right solution.
It even prompted what I'd considered till then one of the greatest compliments of my life. I had worked side-by-side with a Vietnam vet on a campaign to improve our community for teens. Our efforts ultimately failed, but he said the following: "If I ever have to be in a foxhole again, I hope it's with someone like you!"
But during the year of the sledgehammer, I would finally stand toe to toe and nose to nose with a harsh truth that had escaped me for decades: Some things are simply out of our hands.
And those things belong to what I've come to think of as The Great Unknowable. God to some. A higher power to others.
I also learned that when you pour everything you've got into everything you do, you leave nothing in reserve for life's surprises, especially when they show up like wrecking balls.
These days I go out of my way to keep a little something in reserve. I no longer feel guilty about acts of self-care, like getting massage or going on retreat or simply staring at my feet for 30 minutes. It's not a luxury; it's survival.
I wish I could say I've got the lesson down flat. But every so often, that willful little creature shows up again and tests the boundaries.
And that's when I have to remind myself of a beautiful quote attributed to Michelangelo:
"I am still learning"
Image 1 by DianthusMoon
Image 2 by Wild Goose Studio - Designs