Just a thought… Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. [Dr. Viktor Frankl]
So, how’s your week been? Mine’s been…busy. I truly had no idea how much work was involved in recovery until I began it – and this applies to everyone, whether from illness or disease, or from traumas and change (large and small).
I have also finally come to admit that one of my biggest enemies is judgment. And it’s not from outside – as it used to be – but from within. I’ll explain.
When you live and work in an environment that is literally a popularity contest (in my case, with radio ratings monthly, and in a former life, counting how many clicks there were to posts or blogs – something that quite literally no longer counts), each day can be a challenge. I faced judgment as to whether what we were doing – topics discussed or written about, songs that were played and so on – were to people’s liking. Many felt free to share their opinions (especially at Christmas time). But that was the job and I loved so much of it that the rest was worth it.
Now, of course, that has changed. I’ve set more boundaries in my personal life and have removed several of the demands for more-more-more when it comes to numbers. Would I love to see our Switzerland-to-The Netherlands riverboat cruise in 2020 filled with just guests who want to be with Mike Cooper and me? Oh, heck yeah! (Anyone wanting information on that can click here to email our friend Gerry Koolhof.)
Do I hope that my friend Allan Bell will sell out tickets for the Old Mill-style dance Mike and I are hosting in Markham November 1 to aid Markham Stouffville Hospital? Absolutely.
But the pressures are off now. It feels strange but wonderful.
I don’t worry that what I write or post on social media will not please people. I stay away from political discussions, especially as one scandal after another – real or manufactured – arises each day; it’s just not worth the garbage responses and personal attacks that can accompany having a different point of view. I’m done with that idiocy and I’m embracing the Serenity Prayer‘s reminder to have the courage to change the things I can (and the wisdom to know the difference).
I block bots and bigots, have stopped following acidic accounts on Twitter and deleted my subscriptions to emailed newsletters that used to put a knot in my stomach when I saw their subject lines first thing in the morning. How much of my tension was self-inflicted! Now I use that morning time on meditation instead. Ahhhh.
The judgment that I’m working on now is something that I think a lot of us deal with: the voices that peck away at us from within. The ones that ask me why I’m doing this or not doing that; the ones that ask if I’m doing enough or doing too much. But this week, I found an astoundingly clear answer in a book that I’ve waited far too long to read: Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.
If you’re not familiar, I’ll boil it down: Dr. Frankl was a young Austrian doctor when he was shipped to a series of concentration camps during World War II. Much of his family, including his pregnant 24-year-old wife, were among the millions who perished. The first part of the book is a series of moments and experiences from that horrific stain on history as seen through his eyes, both as a man and as one who studies the mind and its workings. It’s filled with heartbreak and abominations, but its pictures of human nature in that most stripped-down moment in time reveal glimpses of humour and even hope. It’s a brilliant and timeless piece of work.
(I am going to make it clear here that in no way am I comparing the loss of our daughter to the unimaginable hardships endured by those who have suffered physical and mental torture, the loss of their entire families and communities and so much more in wartime – and even peacetime – atrocities. While I think that something like that might go unsaid, I feel I should point it out, lest anyone imagine I believe otherwise. Full Stop.)
Back to what jumped out at me from this book. It was a line that made me reach for my highlighter, mark it and then read again and again. I’ve cited it to counsellors, to Rob and to anyone who will listen to me in recovery. An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behaviour. The line refers to the behaviour patterns and psychological makeup of his fellow concentration camp prisoners. Laughter? Hope? Prayer? Bargaining? All normal for them as they strived to find a reason to live another day, another hour or even another minute.
What does that mean to me? Well, those simple words help me to understand why it is that I’ve been able to do what I’ve done since Lauren left us: dig deep into our grief to write a book and then talk about it without breaking down into tears every time I’m interviewed, sent a letter or email, or asked a question in a book club.
You see, it may not strike anyone as normal to have a reaction or aftermath like the one I’m experiencing, but that’s okay – it’s my normal. It’s how my mind and body have chosen to cope and to move forward and put into practice what Dr. Frankl calls “will to meaning.” Rob and I are willing ourselves into a future that has purpose and goals, like helping others through our own experience. That is exactly what Mourning Has Broken and the events that have come in its wake are meant to do. Even my recovery.
After judging myself and wondering how it was that the woman on stage or on camera (me) was getting through all of this intact when it should have left us to die, too, I finally have an answer. This is normal! And, as we all know, like beauty, “normal” is in the eye of the beholder.
When we stop judging ourselves, it frees us from the weight we carry in our minds, on our shoulders and elsewhere in our bodies. We become lighter of spirit and outlook and the rocks in our pockets transform into feathers. After all, are we that different from each other? Most of us are just doing the best we can with the hands we’ve been dealt (or the cards we’ve drawn) on any given day.
To lighten up on oneself, truly, is to feel altogether lighter. And it’s glorious.
By the way, if you’re interested in more information on the river cruise, the Oldies Dance or perhaps one of the appearances I’m making over the next few months, have a look at the ‘What’s UP’ section of my homepage.
Have a beautiful weekend and I’ll return on Monday.