A wise friend of mine posted on Facebook this morning “If we never thank God for every smile, then why do we blame him for every tear?”
This triggered an avalanche of reflection for me. I’ve lived through times of ease and plenty, and I’ve lived through times of austerity and struggle. I’ve found that I reflect on this one summer of my life with a strange amount of nostalgia.
I was in rural Alabama, in a relationship with a person who made my life constantly uncomfortable and difficult. We were staying in a house where we only had half-permission to stay. The house had no air conditioning and another resident who showed up sometimes, drunk, and significantly armed, often belligerent and legitimately dangerous. We had virtually no money and our only food for weeks was bologna from the last-chance grocery, non-nutritive white bread, and cheap sour cream and onion potato chips.
We’d get up in the morning and try to make a plan to better our lot, count our pocket change and opportunities. We didn’t have a cell phone, internet, jobs, or gas money to get more than a few miles. By the time we made peace with that, it grew too hot in the tiny space for us to even move. We sat almost motionless in the heat, sweating on the scratchy couch, sharing the one or two cigarettes we had between us.
Sometimes there were random threats of eviction or harm through the day. Sometimes, small boons like a couple shared cigarettes from random visitors or a little leftover food that showed up in the fridge.
Why was this a good time? Why do I continue to reminisce about this miserable summer. I remember now feeling hopeless and distraught, riddled with anxiety and depression, but my memory of the time is sweet. The little gifts that came our way and the small happinesses shone like bright stars in the endless night we were immersed in.
When I think back on times when I had a regular paycheck, abundant cash, and more or less good social times, I don’t have a fraction of the pleasure I do when I think of the summer I survived in that shack in Alabama. Why?
It occurs to me that I hear people often plead for happier, easier times from whatever “higher power” they believe in, questioning WHY do things have to be so bloody hard?
I would never wish to be back in that shack, half fearing for my life most of the time, but that experience changed me in ways too numerous to mention. When I would meditate or pray about my circumstance, the answer was always “wait”.
Perhaps I’m better for the waiting. Perhaps I’m stronger from the struggles. Perhaps those times just give me the perspective to rejoice in the gifts that show up even when times are darkest. Either way, I will not blame any higher power for the difficulties I’ve endured, for they have made me infinitely grateful for every glass of clean water, breath of safe air, and night of unthreatened sleep. That gratitude and peace, to me, is worth every agony I’ve felt thus far.