Tragedy strikes a woman who isn’t yet old. A minivan traveling toward her on a dark mountain highway hits her car nearly head-on just after sunset. She grips her steering wheel as hard as she can and veers into the rocky mountainside until her car screeches to a halt. The minivan flips onto its side and skids in the other direction off a cliff, plummeting nearly 500 feet to the ground below. Inside, a young family of five on their way to grandma’s house for Christmas Eve dinner.
The woman doesn’t recall the events that followed during the next several days. She doesn’t recall the three eye witnesses who comforted her and assured her that it wasn’t her fault—that the other driver had swerved into her lane. She doesn’t recall how she got to the emergency room or the fact that she stayed there for over a week, through Christmas and into the New Year, to treat a severe concussion and broken bones.
What she does know—and clearly recalls—are the endless string of days she passes sitting alone in her bedroom, crying and thinking, “Why me?” Why after 48 years of Sunday church attendance, unwavering faith, and regular community service and charity work, would God ask her to spend the rest of her life knowing that she single-handedly killed an entire family?
She has a family of her own that tries to comfort her ailing heart, but now she sees them only as the family she has taken from the world. She also has an overflowing network of close friends who want to see her smile again, but they now represent friends that others have lost because of her.
The woman who isn’t yet old begins to age more rapidly. Within a few short months, she is a shell of her former self—skin and bones, wrinkles creasing under her eyes, a despondent downward gaze, and a hole in her heart that has grown so wide she feels like there’s nothing left at all.
All the people around her—those family members and friends who care so much—have done everything in their power to revive her to her former self. When love didn’t work, they tried relaxing vacations. When vacations didn’t work, they tried getting her involved in healthy community activities. When the community activities didn’t work, they tried doctors. And now they have resigned from trying. Because the woman who is now an old woman has completely resigned from everything.
A night comes—Christmas Eve one year after the accident—when she decides that it’s just not worth it any more—that it’s time to leave this world behind. Perhaps to go somewhere better. Perhaps to go nowhere at all. Luckily, she decides to sleep on it, because she barely has the strength to keep her eyelids open. So she closes her eyes and instantly falls into a deep sleep.
And she begins to dream. In it, she is sitting in a dimly lit room at a round table across from an elderly woman who looks a lot like her late mother, who coincidentally passed away on Christmas morning five years before the accident. They stare at each other in silence for several minutes and then the elderly woman speaks.
“My dear, tragedy is simply a miracle waiting to be discovered. Because within tragedy lie the seeds of love, learning, forgiveness, and empathy. If we choose to plant these seeds, they grow strong. If, on the other hand, we choose to overlook them, we prolong our tragedy and let somebody else discover the miracle.”
The old woman cries in her dream and in her sleep. She thinks about her husband, her children, and all of the wonderful people who love and care for her. And she suddenly realizes that instead of using the tragic accident to notice how precious life is, she has prolonged the tragedy and essentially ceased to live her life. And she is very close, now, to passing all her pain and sorrow over to the people she loves the most in this world.
She opens her eyes and takes a deep breath. She is alive. She realizes that she still has an opportunity to change things . . . to mend the broken pieces and experience the miracle that comes after the tragedy . . . to plant the seeds of love, learning, forgiveness, and empathy, and water these seeds until they grow strong.
She rolls over and kisses her husband on the cheek and ruffles his hair until his eyelids begin to flutter. He opens his eyes and looks at her, totally confused. There’s a spark in her eyes he hasn’t seen in a long while—a spark that he thought had died with her youth on the day of the accident. “I love you so much,” she says. “I’ve missed you,” he replies softly as he kisses her lips. “Merry Christmas, and welcome back.”
Our Stories . . . This Time of Year
The woman in the story above is a close friend. Her name is Wendy, and I’m happy to say she’s alive and well, and not nearly as “old” as she once was. With that said, however, Angel and I know many beautiful souls just like her who are still desperately struggling. We speak with them every single day. And many of them tell us that this time of the year is the hardest.
Through a decade of coaching sessions, course trainings, heartfelt conversations, and self-hosted annual seminars, Angel and I have learned a lot about the human condition and the stories we hold on to and recite to ourselves. And, for so many of us, the holiday season is when it all comes to a head. We spend the final days of the year off from work and school, reflecting on the state of our lives. It’s not all bad, of course, but even when times are generally good, our minds have a tendency to drift back to (perhaps less intense) personal versions of Wendy’s accident on that dark mountain highway.
And Angel and I are no different. This time of year sometimes gets the best of us too.
Keeping things in perspective. We proactively feed ourselves the right reminders to ease our aching minds and redirect our energy effectively. We challenge you to remind yourself, too . . .
1. You are not alone.
Don’t be scared to let someone special in when you’re in a dark place. You know who this person is. Don’t expect them to solve your problems; just allow them to face your problems with you. Give them permission to stand beside you. They won’t necessarily be able to pull you out of the dark place you’re in, but the light that spills in when they enter will at least show you which way the door is.
Above all, the important thing to remember is that you don’t have to face hard times by yourself. No matter how bizarre or embarrassed or pathetic you feel about our own situation, there is someone in your life who has dealt with similar emotions and who wants to help you. When you hear yourself say, “I am alone,” it’s just your mind trying to sell you a lie. Don’t buy it! Turn to those who love you and let them in, even if there’s nothing to say.
2. You are not who you used to be, and that’s OK.
Life often leads us on journeys we would never go on if it were up to us. Don’t be afraid. Have faith. Believe. Believe in yourself through hard times. Believe in your capacity to heal. Believe that the answers are out there waiting. Believe that life will surprise you again and again. Believe that the journey is the destination. Believe that it’s all worth your while.
Yes, you’ve been hurt. You’ve gone through numerous ups and downs that have made you who you are today. So many things have happened—things that have changed your perspective, taught you lessons, and forced your spirit and soul to grow. See the beauty in this. Appreciate your progress. Give yourself credit for your resilience and how far you’ve come . . .
You’ve survived all your bad days.
And you’re still here, growing.
3. This is the beginning.
Everything in life—every situation and every relationship—has to come to an end eventually. It’s important to appreciate and accept the end of an era—to walk away sensibly when something has reached its inevitable conclusion. Letting go, turning the page, moving forward, etc. It doesn’t matter what you call it, what matters is that you leave the past where it belongs so you can make the best of the life that’s presently available to be lived. This ending is not THE END, it’s just your life beginning again in a new way. It’s a point in your story where one chapter fades into the next.
To a great extent, this happens to us constantly. It’s happening right now.
Every single day we have to accept the fact that things will never go back to how they used to be, and that this ending is really the beginning. This concept might be tough to accept sometimes, but it’s always the truth. Life is endless impermanence. And it’s beautiful. It means nothing is really behind you. It means life always begins now—right now—not tomorrow or the next day or the next. And it means you can have the fresh start you want whenever you want.
So be humble. Be teachable. The world is always bigger than your momentary view of the world. Right now there’s plenty of room for a new idea, a new step . . . a new beginning. (Note: Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Happiness” chapter of our book.)
4. In your present response is your greatest power.
The goal isn’t to get rid of all your negative thoughts, feelings, and life situations—that’s impossible. The goal is to change your response to them.
The first step?
Anchoring yourself in the present. Because no matter what, you can always fight the battles of today. It’s only when you add the infinite battles of yesterday and tomorrow that life gets overly complicated.
The easiest way to find presence, and change your immediate response, is to start by evaluating the tension in your body and posture. In fact, I bet you can find some kind of tension in your body at this very moment. For me, it’s often in my neck, but sometimes it’s in my back and shoulders.
Where does this tension we feel come from? We’re resisting life in some way—perhaps we’re disheartened by the truth, frustrated at our circumstances, or overwhelmed by the road ahead. And our mental resistance generates a tension in our bodies and unhappiness in our lives. Therefore, Angel and I often recommend this simple strategy to our course students who are struggling to relieve themselves of their resistance and tension:
- Locate the tension in your body right now.
- Notice what you’re resisting and tensing up against—it might be a situation or person you’re dealing with or avoiding.
- Relax the tense area of your body—deep breath and a quick stretch often helps.
- Face the same situation or person, but with a relaxed body and mind.
Repeat this practice as often as needed—make it a small daily ritual. Face the day with less tension and more presence. Change your mode of response from one of struggle and resistance to one of peace and acceptance. And see how doing so changes your life. (Note: Angel and I build small, life-changing rituals with our students in the “Goals & Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
5. You don’t have everything you want, but you have enough to move forward.
What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you were thankful for today?
Seriously, look around, and be thankful right now. For your health, your family, your friends, and your home. Nothing lasts forever.
And even in times of uncertainty—even when life seems far from perfect—it’s always important to keep the simple things in perspective.
- You are alive.
- You didn’t go to sleep hungry last night.
- You didn’t go to sleep outside.
- You had a choice of what clothes to wear this morning.
- You haven’t spent a minute in fear for your life.
- You know someone who loves you.
- You have access to clean drinking water.
- You have access to medical care.
- You have access to the Internet.
- You can read.
Some might say you are incredibly wealthy and privileged. So remember to be thankful for all the things you do have. Let your enthusiasm rise from the doldrums by seizing the very real and present opportunity you have to be appreciative. Breathe it in. And then do your best to take the next smallest step forward.
It’s your turn…
I sincerely hope you will join us in keeping the points and principles in this post at the top of your mind this holiday season. 🙂
But before you go, let us know:
- Which point or principle above resonates the most right now, and why?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts (or a small piece of your story) with us.