Suburban Snapshots

The Upside of Catastrophe

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I remember when I was pregnant, my godmother was dying of pancreatic cancer and I thought, this is life now. Not that life would always be untimely death and anxiety, but in my stress over becoming surprise-pregnant and for the first time in my life witnessing at close range the process of dying, I realized that yes, growing up, moving out, heartache and success are all parts of life, but the big things, those are the shape of it.

I'll be 42 this September. In those decades I have met many, many people. It's true what they say about everyone having a story, and what I've learned from the friends and acquaintances who've crossed my path is abundant. For all the obvious reasons I can't be glad my loved ones have struggled, but I've been bettered by their triumphs and catastrophes, and I hope that counts for something.



To my dear friend with M.S. — you live every day with independence. You don't feel brave or especially inspirational, but I think you are amazing. (For the record, this is the only time I've ever referred to you as "my friend with M.S.")

My co-worker, caring for her husband after his traumatic brain injury — I have learned so much from you about the realities caregiving and recovery. Your honesty gives a person like me a clearer path toward understanding your world.

All of the single and coupled gay humans in my life — there has never been a time when I've questioned your equality, and I celebrate with you every victory toward recognizing your humanity.

For Sarah — I know you had terrible days and that I mostly saw you on the better ones. I sat with you just for a precious few minutes during what would be your last one. None of it was fair, but you made me less afraid. There was so much love in that room. You are written on my heart.

The woman who posts to Facebook about her motorcycle rides, her crushes, her nights out and her arduous chemo treatments — you also make me less afraid. You are life going on.

For my friend fighting lymphoma who shares the funniest and most sincere updates — you remind me that humor is alive in struggle. I have a good feeling about you.

(So much fucking cancer.)

I have many friends managing their children's emotional, intellectual and physical needs — your likes on my silly observations remind me that despite all you've adapted to, we are all parenting together. Thank you for keeping it real.

The lost children crush me, and I've met so many grieving parents these past few years — thank you for showing me how to be a friend through the uncertainty of grief. Thank you for sharing your intensity with me. Thank you for continuing to give when you have already given too much.

There are so many of you — the recovering and struggling addicts, the leavers and the left, the people with pasts, the ones with secrets. Sometimes I've easily empathized with you, sometimes I've had to question myself to understand you, always I have learned from you.

We are the sum of our relationships and experiences, and surely we are the sum of the experiences of our relations. I've been taught by your trials and lessons and I am a better person for our collective adversity. What you remind me of every day though, is that each of us is so much more than our struggle.

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