I saw an old hometown friend Saturday at a breakfast place. She was up for a baseball game with her husband.
“You know, I’ve had cancer. But I’m fine. This is my real hair finally“.
She has always had a gorgeous smile, which she flashed at me again.
I hadn’t heard a word about it. Told her how sorry I was. She told me my family there in my hometown had been very kind, which didn’t surprise me a bit.
We said our goodbyes and left.
I’ve been thinking about her a lot.
I hear every day how one word, one event changes someone’s life. Changes someone’s perspective. Whether that event is cancer or tornado or rape
I would have loved to have sat down and talked to her about how she had changed. About how her perspective on life had been transformed by having cancer.
What I see is that people have to rebuild a wall of certainty around themselves. Brick by brick. They have to come to believe that they can feel safe again, whether it’s from illness or nature or from the actions of others. They have to trust again. Slowly. Sometimes very slowly. While just having gone through one of life’s terrifically real experiences of feeling totally out of control.
I had a female patient come into my office one time. Mid-40’s. Was telling me all about her really great life. Great job, great marriage, great kids. No problems. Puzzled, I asked her, “So, I am little confused. Why you are here?”.
Her eyes filled with tears.
“I have never had to grieve anything – and I am terrified of living the rest of my life“.
Being in midlife innately predicts loss. If things go “normally”, whatever that means. We will eventually lose our parents. We may lose our partners or get sick ourselves. Children leave. We may stop working at jobs that have been meant a great deal or just have been a familiar structure. We will watch siblings and friends go through the same.
That’s why perspective is so important. The patient above had actually handled more loss than she had given herself credit for – which we worked on. She just had to be reminded of that.
She needed to find her courage.
“Courage is managing fear to accomplish what you want to accomplish”. That’s what Rudy Giuiliani said after 9/11. I don’t remember quotes very well but for some reason that one has stuck with me.
Courage not being the lack of fear but the management of it. Being afraid and still getting on with life.
It takes a lot of that in midlife. Managing fear. Managing ambiguity.
Managing not knowing what’s going to happen.
Maybe my friend found her courage. She is still smiling that gorgeous smile. Her hair is back. She’s watching baseball. She’s alive.
The good news seems to be that you can find it. Whether that’s through faith in a higher Being or some other way.
We can all go on. Accomplishing what we need and want to accomplish.
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