26 years ago on the 9th, my father was murdered (by a black widow) and me and my siblings became parentless. Five years ago on the 21st, I was told to say goodbye to my beloved companion, Passion the dog, because she may not make it through the night. And two years ago on the same date I said goodbye to my brother.
This year, when I turned 51, I became someone who had lived more of my life without parents than with them. Most who read this will never know what that's like. My mother died while I was still in college, so I never knew her as an adult. I've never heard a parent tell me they're proud of the person I've become and I've never gotten to tell them face to face that it's all because of what they gave me.
Another thing most of you will never know is what it's like to live 26 years knowing your father's murderer is free, alive and living off his pension in Florida. You may never experience the complete failure of the American justice system firsthand. You'll never have to let go of something so maddening in order to save your own sanity. You'll never have to see what something like that does to the people you love. And you'll probably never have someone who, despite your spiritual beliefs, you wait and hope patiently for decades to die, because it will be the only form of justice you'll ever see.
On the upside of all of this, I have a few friends whose parents have Altzheimers or who have to struggle with the decision to put their parents in a home. And I'm truly grateful I'll never have to deal with that. I think you're more resilient when you're younger. Losing my brother a couple of years ago was very hard, primarily because of the history we had together. And while you expect your parents to die, having a sibling die is somehow a thought that never occurs to you until it happens. But I think the longer you have someone in your life, the harder it can be in many ways. Also, the older you get, the more sentimental you become.
I'm thinking of all of this because these anniversaries tick by and we don't often speak of them. We just take them in silently. And Monday (today or tomorrow, depending on when you're reading) marks the anniversary of the final hours of my "first born" dog and the final minutes of my fourth born sibling. Aside from remembering them and continuing to talk to them in their current form, I think one of the best ways to honor our departed loved ones is through perspective. That's one of the gifts we all receive when someone we love dies.
Is what you're going through right now as bad as losing your brother? Is it as bad as what he went through, knowing he was leaving his wife alone with with four children to raise? Is it as painful as going through a year of civil and criminal trials while grieving your father's death? Is it worth losing your dignity and integrity over when you've been able to hold on to both for 26 years while waiting for justice to happen? Is it as big a loss as losing the only person who would ever love you unconditionally? Is it as crushing and defeating as knowing there's nothing more you can do to save the life of a being you raised from a puppy and who taught you some of life's most valuable lessons?
We go through life, myself included, and get all worked up about the stupidest shit. We let small things hold us back and defeat us when we've slain much bigger monsters in our lives. We've lost bigger things, had bigger worries, faced bigger fears, overcome greater challenges, forgiven greater slights. And yet, there are times we forget how strong and resilient we are. We forget how blessed we've been and how blessed we still are.
And the same is true about life's victories. We forget how many times our prayers were answered, how often our dreams were realized and our thoughts became tangible. So many times what looked like inevitable defeat turned into a great blessing. So frequently the things that brought us great pain also brought us valuable gifts.
Is something that's weighing heavily on your mind really as big as it seems? Or is it just distracting you from addressing something even bigger?
Is the annoyance that's currently in your life worth all the energy you're putting into it? Or is minuscule in comparison what you've weathered in the past?
Are you really on the verge of utter defeat? Or have you forgotten just how strong you truly are?
Does everything around you seem hopelessly bleak? Or does it look just like the same darkness before the dawn you've experienced before?
Some who are reading this are truly facing epic moments in their lives...the kind that put all other moments in perspective. Some may have never faced anything truly difficult and, therefore have little perspective. But the rest of us—most of us, I would imagine—are occupying our minds with things that, in the context of what we've already experienced, are trivial at best or a speed bump at worst.
Perspective is one of the greatest gifts that comes from the tragedies and difficulties in our lives. It reminds us how big we are. How blessed we are. How strong. Resilient. Forgiving. And compassionate we can be. In that way, the moments that bring us perspective also bring us closer to God, even though they're also the very moments that might cause us to question him.
So as you go through your week this week, consider putting your issues—from commuter traffic to interpersonal issues to the truly tragic—into their proper perspective. If you're a Christian, Easter marks the perfect time to do this. The rest of us can just consider the rebirth that spring brings. In the experience of the soul, nothing can be taken from us. Nothing lasts forever. We cannot be defeated. Whatever threatens us today is already doomed to fail. Everything brings us closer to god. We are all divine beings. Nothing can change that. We can only forget. And it's never too late to remember.