I’ll Never Do That Again: The Addiction of Drama vs. the Lesson of Grace
I’ll never love again.
I’ll never trust again.
I’ll never exercise again. (well, that was easy, wasn’t it?)
I’ll never travel again.
My god, we love our drama. It informs popular songs, popular culture. It’s woven through the honkey-tonk tripe of country music and suggests that there is great redeeming value in being in love with longing and loss. And pain. Most especially pain.
Let’s play with this for a moment.
Say you’re in your early twenties. You fall hard for someone. Plan on spending your life with that person. You lose them in a horrific accident.
What, now you’re going to spend the next six or seven decades alone? Really?
Say you had a close friend or lover. You decided to place your trust in this person. They let you down badly. What, you’ve decided that the entire human race is forfeit because of one jerk?
Say you give running a try. You make it halfway around the block, then take a tumble because (okay, let’s face it) you were listening to your tunes rather than paying attention to where you put your feet. You badly damage your ankle, and are sidelined for six weeks.
What, so now you’re never going to expend a calorie of effort again because you had a boo-boo?
Finally, you travel with your parents. Your mother gets sick and succumbs. Truthfully this could have happened at any time, anywhere. Of course this is awful.
But now, four decades later, you’re still terrified to leave the house, much less travel anywhere farther than the local McDonald’s?
Life Happens, Suffering is Optional
The first example came from my own life. I was mad about a guy, he was a pilot. Got killed in an airplane accident. I was 21 at the time. Sure it affected me. Damned right. However I rather think that spending the next six plus decades mooning over a man who is off on another journey is pretty stupid on my part. I’d have missed out on a slew of fun, superb sex, countless laughs, and besides, the current BF is VERY hot.
Most of us have, at one time or another, been taken pretty badly by an evil operator. Perhaps it’s the IRS scam. Or a trusted friend rips us off. Doesn’t matter. We trust, we get slicked, we’re angry and resentful.
My best friend has an acquaintance who constantly wants to borrow money. Over the years this has cost her quite a bit. This person never, ever pays her back. The last time this happened I challenged her on her resentment.
“You know her track record. Why do you lend her money?” This to a person who hardly has two dimes to rub together, after she lent her acquaintance $1200. I don’t blame her for being angry, but after so many times, at some point we have to recognize our own complicity in the problem. Her resentment is misplaced. If anything she might want to direct some of that frustration at her own willingness to give money to someone whom she knows damned good and well has no intention of paying the loan. She plays Santa Claus to a bad operator and then gets mad at her? We have to cooperate- and after the second time, there’s a pattern. STOP already.
You’re nearing fifty, and you’re not happy with your body. Come January, you get religion, buy a gym membership and throw yourself with complete abandon into a workout program. However, you didn’t hire a trainer to teach you how to use the machines. You didn’t take the time to warm up before your workouts. You push way too hard too fast and throw your back out. What, it’s the gym’s fault now? And you’ll never do it again?
When we travel, and I travel internationally a great deal, all kinds of things can happen. We get sick from food or environment. We get injured trying something new. In extreme circumstances we or someone we love may get extremely ill and die. The simple truth is that this can happen any time, anywhere. It’s not the travel. It’s just life. To make the decision to let a very sad circumstance put you in jail for the rest of your life, to me, seems a bit extreme. It’s not the travel that did it necessarily, even if you or your loved one picked up malaria. It’s just life.
It is all high drama. It appears that we love high drama. High drama provides us with excuse after excuse for not being in life. For not trying. For not loving again. For never leaving the house to explore. To stop exercising, because after all, that one time, I got hurt, ya know?
People sagely nod their heads. You’re right. Can’t be too careful. Better stay home. Don’t risk (getting hurt, being taken advantage of, getting injured, etc).
Let’s talk about high drama.
The Story of One Immigrant
Last year I was in Turkey, got thrown from my horse. My foot was stuck in the right stirrup. My horse did what any large, frightened animal will do when a very large dingleberry is dragging on it-he tried hard to stomp me to death, and this after I’d just concussed the crap out of my cranium on the hard rocky ground. Broken teeth, a busted rib, a stomped shoulder were part of the damage.
I ended up in a very fine private hospital in Cappadocia, where I met Mohammad. As I was being pushed on a gurney to the exam room, I felt a strong hand grasp mine, and not let go. When I looked up, there was Mohammad. Kind, attentive, perfect English. He never left my side.
I was to find out over the next 24 hours that Mohammad, who was Syrian, had barely escaped from war-besieged Aleppo with his small kids and wife. A fireman, he reached Turkey and got asylum. He had lost everything he owned, and all he had left was his family. In Turkey, he watched a male nurse at this same hospital grasp his wife’s hand for hours while she was in labor giving birth to their last child.
That changed Mohammad’s life. He made a commitment to do the same. He learned Turkish and English, and put his mind towards rebuilding his life. His wife and kids are in school. He now works as a translator for that same hospital, and is busy working hard to help injured patients like me make it through our worst hours right after a major accident.
For my part, people like Mohammad perfectly demonstrate how life’s awfulness can sculpt us into brand new people, with a brand new purpose. He’s had his fair share of drama. You could argue that as a fireman, he already had those resources.
When You’re Served a Shit Sandwich
Well, here’s the problem with that. There are too many examples of people who have no training whatsoever who took the rotten eggs and shit sandwiches life handed them and found a way to use those experiences to give them strength, perspective, and ways to feel gratitude for what they do still have. That doesn’t mean they don’t cry, or mourn, or feel horrible. That doesn’t mean they don’t suffer depression or feel suicidal, or want to escape the pain.
What it does mean is that they chose not to have the inevitable ups and downs that affect every single one of us turn into excuses not to have a full life.
It is natural and normal to feel horrible after a shattering experience. There would be something seriously awry if we didn’t. By the same token, once we have found a way through our feelings, and that time is unique to each of us, the next question is what are we going to with who we are now? What does this experience teach us about how all of us suffer at times, and celebrate at times? How do those experiences shift our perspectives in terms of understanding that everyone else also has deep pain in their lives?
Last year after I rehabbed from the Turkish incident I was back on a horse in Kazakhstan. That horse threw me at the full gallop and I broke my back in four places. When I rehabbed from that, I found out that I needed rotator cuff surgery.
I’m rehabbing from that right now and in training to climb Mt. Kenya in Africa and fully plan to be riding as soon as my shoulder is ready. I can’t speak for anyone else. It’s not my place. But this is the least of the things that happened to me. Far more damaging things have happened, including rape. However, for my part, each of those events has made me far stronger. They have taught me resilience, competence, and to trust my ability to handle whatever life hands me. That makes me useful.
It’s Not About You, Never Was About You, and Never Will Be About You
Some years ago during a very brief and friendly exchange with a gentleman who turned out to be a pastor, he handed me a business card. On the back was a phrase that said effectively:
“Those things that happen to us in life are not meant for us at all. They are meant to make us useful in God’s hands, so that we are never surprised at what we come across.”
I absolutely love the main idea of this piece.
I am not a Christian per se, but I do have faith. A great deal of it. It’s what was earned making my way through life’s really evil events. There’s nothing personal in them. The Good Lord- whoever that may be -didn’t wake up this morning with an eye towards making my life miserable. Nor is it His or Her job to worry about how I feel about today’s hurricane or the house fire or the death of a beloved dog or a parent’s cancer. Life is just life. I believe that faith comes from our ability to embrace every single living bit of it as our own.
Then, how we use that to be of service ends up being grace.
To this pastor’s card, I agree wholeheartedly with this part of it: every single thing that has tossed me around like a gnat in a tornado has taught me compassion, empathy, patience and forgiveness. From that place of deep experience I hear those who are similarly hurting. Without my own high drama, I am useless to those who need comfort, understanding and the safe, quiet place of permission to be in pain. For example, as my friend Sonja suffers through the slow, agonizing process of her elderly mother’s dying, I know precisely how that feels. When a friend confides that she has eating disorders, I know precisely how that feels. Any woman who has been sexually abused, I know precisely how that feels. These things allow us to weave connective tissue within the human experience. There is immense grace in being present, without trying to fix someone else’s journey for them. We must all carry our own water. But it is ever so much easier when someone who has walked a similar path looks at us and understands. We aren’t alone. And that in and of itself is a gift beyond measure.
High drama has a place. It’s our finest teacher. No other experience conveys wisdom, emotional maturity or faith the way horrific life events do. In that way those events are absolutely necessary. Without them we can’t grow, experience ourselves as powerful even through our roughest times, and ultimately make ourselves useful to others who are entering the same terrifyingly dark tunnels we have already walked.
It’s not about you. Never was. It’s about earning grace. Developing faith. Finding a way to be useful to those who need us, and many do. To me, that’s sacred work. In any religion, that, it seems, is the whole point.