This quote always gets me whenever it comes back through my Memories.
Bill and I were talking recently about the bad things that happen to us along the way and how, without those moments of black, our story would be lacking. It’s a funny thing how that works, ya know. That our worst pain can be the very thing that adds so much depth and meaning to our lives. None of us really enjoy them while they’re happening – in fact, when it was me, I didn’t give a rat’s ass about the good things that might come from it. I just wanted to be out of the fire.
And yet, the fact remains, who we are and who we become primarily exists because of the hardships we face and how we handle those hardships.
It’s not enough to simply experience bad things. You don’t automatically get a membership into the Absolved-Into-The-Greater-Good club by having merely survived. There is a superseding of those agonies and a rising above that is required for the lemons-to-lemonade thing to happen.
The hardships we face also define us. We read lots of trendy memes about not being defined by our bad things, but who here has faced something really bad and not been left with a permanent mark? It’s almost like being given an extra middle name. Who we were before it happened stays and remains, but a thing – a dark thing – is added. And it remains. Always.
My friend Jonathan’s wife died way too early. Insert extra middle name.
My friend Courtney and my friend Jess and my friend Lora all buried their young sons. Insert extra middle names.
My friend Kris was abused badly as a child. Insert extra middle name.
My friend Rachel was battered by her ex husband. Insert extra middle name.
My friend’s husband committed suicide. Insert extra middle name.
My friend’s son committed suicide. Insert extra middle name.
My sister’s best friend in high school died in a car crash. Insert extra middle name.
My friend’s daughter is in an abusive marriage, and she won’t get out. Insert extra middle name.
I have a handful of extra middle names as well. Most of the people who really know me already know those names. And yet, I often feel some sort of misplaced shame that I somehow just can’t seem to get over those things. Those dark things. I hate how they linger and how every thing in life that I learn and want to share and get lemonade-from-lemons somehow always seems to have to come back to those same sad storylines.
A few years ago, I was a youth mentor at the local YFC for an art/creative writing gig. As is YFC tradition, during each session, each person is required to give their Life Story in five minutes. I kept trying to concoct something different than the same storylines that have always been present in my life. I tried to come up with something new. I wanted to add in new middle names and leave out the old ones. Not because I was ashamed or something, but because truly, in the deep recesses of me – in the place that feels and knows things without really having thought them through – it seems as though I really should be over them all by now. It seems as though every bit of negative emotional charge should have drained out of those stories, and that I should have something new and fresh to give.
As I began putting together my five minute speech, I realized, as I did with Bill just the other day, that those stories ARE me. They were not simply things that happened to me. They were trajectories. They were paths. They were directions I was sent on. So, I could no more give an accurate assessment of my life in the absence of those stories than a good book could bring you to the present place of the main character by foregoing the hardships that brought him there.
Who I am IS those stories. They are my extra middle names.
But maybe it gets better.
Maybe my middle names WERE: Abused, Grew-Up-In-A-Cult, Married-An-Addict, Cheater/Cheated, Abandoned, Alone, Total-Health-Collapse, etc.
But, maybe BECAUSE of having visited those incredibly dark places, now I have other middle names as well.
Of all the dark boxes I’ve been given in my life, each and every time, with enough time and healing and dogged effort, a gift reveals itself to me. A gift I would never have had without having been held under water and tortured. A gift I would never have found if not for the blackness and Great Sadness.
“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for extraordinary things.”