Life is difficult at times, even during weeks of vacation, picnics, summer skies, and the 236th anniversary of our nation’s fortunate birth on July 4, 1776. In fact, even if everyone around us is pulling beach towels out of the dryer, collecting flip-flops and chairs and spraying on SPF-30, we can feel remorseful, distanced from the fun, and perplexed by a thorny problem or a big decision. Sometimes the deep discrepancy between being camped out in a field of universal merriment and our inner turmoil sends us hurtling right past difficult into the land of abject despair.
Sunny times around us can feel awfully ironic, and that’s not surprising, though; it happens at times to us all because life is a school, the only one where we have the test first and then the lesson. But after every major “lesson” in that school, we come to a quiet moment when we hope that what we just learned by surviving conflict of one sort or another, revelations, or stunning personal discovery, for example, might make the next test a little easier to pass.
When we struggle, an interesting phenomenon occurs. Often, when we most need the help of others, rueful pride (“They can’t get me!” “No one’s going to put me in THAT situation again!”) gets in the way and we hunker down–trying to make it on our own. That’s a really bad decision. A prelude to you failing one of life’s tests. Dante and other wise Medieval writers and scholars understood this, believing that pride is chief among all sins. They even capitalized it: Pride.
We deceive ourselves if we believe that respect is given to those who, in pride, stoically bear life’s burdens. Wrong again. What outsiders see is not a noble, silent stoic but a person who is hanging onto the rim of life, and they don’t respect that tough stance—they see it quite properly as a waste of the good life we have been given. So, in and after times of trouble, of despair, do not hunker down in your bunker like an Emotional Survivalist. Such a life is a waste for you—remember what we celebrate every July 4th? Freedom and Liberty.
In times of personal turmoil we forget how good it makes us feel to help others, to make a contribution to others’ lives. But our native inner strength informs us that when life’s travails pay a visit, we should seek help. And here’s a twist: If we don’t allow others to dispense the blessing of a compassionate word or deed when we’re down or recovering, we not only inflict personal punishment upon ourselves, but we rob potential caregivers of the prospect of infusing happiness into their lives as they help us.
When our spirits head south, seeking help is important. Here is another practice we can do to cushion our pain. Recognize that even chance encounters can provide spiritual sustenance. Ask folks to tell you their stories, and then think about and write down the triumphs and disappointments you glean from those stories. You’ll draw strength and comfort from knowing that your most difficult problems are not unique. In this respect we are brothers and sisters.
On this the week when we celebrate our nation’s Independence Day let us not forget that we are each free and independent beings, but may we never be too proud to accept the compassionate hand of another nor too vain to stop and hear the wisdom given us by our brothers and sisters –in celebratory times and down times both.