It’s October and so my news feed and emails are filled with pink ribbons and breast cancer fundraisers. It’s the time of year I’ve grown comfortable with and can laugh about without being triggered. I even started participating in “Pink Day” with an actual pink shirt. But I still bristle at the questions I sometimes get about how I’ve changed. What changes have I made in my life? What have I learned? Am I eating more Kale?
I know everyone wants to hear them. The Oprah or Dr. Phil segment where someone tearfully extols some valuable life lessons that hardship has taught. Or the moral of the story epiphany where everything is wrapped up in a convenient teachable moment that resonates into a TED Talk or a 3 minute YouTube clip.
Truth is, in looking back over the last four years, there are no lessons here. If anything, my experience probably made me more cynical and short-tempered. I lost patience for the inane conversations I used to be a part of and I’m way more judgmental of people who can’t handle the simplest situations. I wouldn’t call those lessons as much as I’d call them side effects.
My husband and I recently had a year-in-review conversation when we went over everything that has been going on in our lives and the lives of our children. And we agreed that there is no silver lining anywhere. You try and find it, but the bottom line is when trouble hits, it hits. When things suck, they suck. There are no blessings to find when you’re waiting for MRI results. No “we’re so lucky” while waiting on a bone scan. Nothing silvery and glittering when your 12 year old is hit with theological questions most people don’t grapple with until they’re 40.
So no, Virginia, there are no lessons here to take away and impart on those more fortunate.
But we did find some consolation prizes that we managed to somehow win in the aftermath of chaos. Whenever a person goes through a painful situation or a difficult time, as difficult and as unfair as the world seems, you are also given a unique look into the best that people can be. You witness your children stepping it up, behaving the way you hoped they would behave as adults. You see a community that wants to help. Friends who want to join you.
And you meet new people, deeper people. You develop richer friendships. I called a friend of mine who I met through breast cancer and told her that she was my silver lining. I also told her that it probably isn’t a compliment that she meets her best friends when they’re in crisis, but whatever. It works. Kind of like a twisted Stockholm Syndrome. Without the Stockholm. Or the syndrome.
It’s easy to wax poetic about pain and suffering. It’s easy to slap on a pink ribbon and “Go Pink!” for cancer. Easy to hashtag posts with #blessed and #grateful and #savethetatas. Even though a part of me knocks it a bit (see “becoming cynical” above), I get that it serves a larger purpose of spreading awareness, and hope, and love. And I’ve gotten a lot better at joining that parade.
But the lessons learned can’t be disseminated through hashtags and tweets or addressed in a five second sound bite at the local 5K. I think in learning there are no lessons, we’ve just moved forward from that time. Learning, maybe, that nothing is ever set in stone, including the lessons you think you learned.