Courage in Catastrophe

I was recently called a catastrophist, and it made my blood boil. Anxious? Scared? Yes. Weary? Most days. But even at my worst, I’m always full of hope and believe in the best possible outcome. I work hard to live a happy existence. How dare anyone that knows me say anything about me having a fatal perspective on life?! I’m a happy person, damn it!

But then I realized something. I actually do have a million catastrophes run through my head on a daily basis. Maybe the people that see this actually know me best. Perhaps better even than I know myself. Like a curse, my mind can turn anything into a horrific eventuality. Sure, I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day, but currently, the clouds are mostly ones I have created myself. That’s what happens when so many seemingly harmless occurrences have ended up stealing so much joy and robbing me of the life I once knew. The storm may have passed, but I’m still left holding the umbrella.

I wasn’t always this way. Let me explain. When, “I’m working late,” turns out to mean, “I’m banging my coworker,” it’s hard to trust again. After putting myself through college and establishing financial stability, the transition into a single mom existence relying on others eroded my confidence and sense of security. No one ever anticipates divorce or childhood illness. These are unimaginable catastrophes. Yet, I have a son with a severe heart defect and have been divorced for a while. I still wake up sometimes thinking it all must be a bad dream. Any shortness of breath from my son could mean something awful …He could be going into heart failure. He could be dying. Jesus. Who knows?! What if my son becomes a juvenile delinquent because he’s lacking a father figure? In this way, it would appear I’m a catastrophist.

But that’s not the whole story. It’s not my worries that define me. It’s my response to the worries. I worry about losing all the time. Still, I keep going after happiness. Besides, what do you actually lose by choosing to take a chance that may involve a future loss versus choosing to take the loss now? One is a theoretical loss, and one is a real and current loss.

When something horrible happens, it happens to your entire being: mind, body and soul. But mostly, it impacts your heart. Death, illness, addiction and loss are dark and real experiences. So the verse, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything else flows from it,” (Proverbs 4:23) leaves me with a lot to contemplate. If a heart is forced to endure hardships beyond one’s control, how does one go about shielding it? For a lot of people, this means closing it off to everything- to include the good. It means choosing to fear worst case scenarios and not taking risks because it could end up badly. Some think it means hardening your heart so that is keeps away the hurt. The problem though? It simultaneously repels the happy. But that’s not at all what’s meant by these words. It means to not let the bad and unavoidable darken and burden the goodness. It means to remain hopeful and vulnerable. If my heart breaks a million times, I’ll love and thrive a million and one times. Besides, I think a heart that loves after it’s been broken is the best sort.

How do I respond to life now that I’m living one harder than I thought I could handle? I give thanks. I appreciate that wonderful things beyond my imagination are unfolding right in front of my eyes. I still have a hot breakfast every morning and chase after my son afterwards- laughing as his belly full of bacon and pop tarts is tackled and tickled. I continue to believe in the best in others. To see the good. I know I won’t die alone, and I know each day has its own worries. I replace any terrors with a hug and positive words (and sometimes a glass of wine too). I see my son defying odds and know he’s not going to become a jail bird. He’s smart and brave. He’ll overcome life’s adversities just like his mom. Hmph.

I hope to someday have a worry-free mind, but in the meantime, I’m proud of myself for persevering. For loving again after loss. For trusting after betrayal. What’s life if it’s not sharing in catastrophes and helping someone through them? Both the real ones and the ones lurking in our minds…I’m thankful for everyone around me (including those that see my ugly side) for also seeing the beautiful side and loving me despite both.

If you’ve been through a catastrophe and your mind still hovers there, be proud of yourself for surviving. Instead of feeling bad for unfortunate events and the resulting perspective, feel thankful for the courage you show in choosing to face another day.

 

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