My life has been a mixed bag of blessings and curses–and I feel blessed by the curses as they have done more to shape me than the blessings. That may seem counter-intuitive, but I now know the value of suffering.
I first read Man’s Search for Meaning in my early 30’s, a post-divorce mother of three young children. I was the last of a line of women sent to college to earn their MRS–once actually said out loud by my father. He was proud of me for attending the same university he had, I was both his responsible child, and his crier (he loved to label us). I know realize that the first label helped shape me into the woman I’ve become and I am the stronger for it. The second was how I initially dealt with suffering.
Back then I was reading everything I could get my hands on to help me navigate my new reality. I was actually living back in my parent’s home, but I was working full time–a blessing and a curse. In hindsight, my three oldest children and I were blessed to live with my parents in an extended generation household. I had backup parents for my children. My parents made lunches, attended games and shared wisdom and parenting. I wonder now if I could make those same sacrifices for my children in their time of need–and I know the answer is yes, unconditionally yes–for it was a blessing for all.
Back to Victor Frankel and the meaning of life. He helped me understand that there are three ways we access to a meaningful life–through love, work, and suffering. How we choose to respond and live within these realms gives our life meaning. We can be victims or we can be survivors We can choose problem-solving or we can choose despair. Equally so, when blessed with love and work, we can choose gratitude or we can choose complacency.
I was blessed to find meaning in my work where I never expected to. Landing at the Waukegan Public Library I was allowed to telecommute in the early 90s as it was still a new concept. I had remarried and had four children at this time. This alone made me take the job with the expectation I would only stay a short time. I stayed 18 years and acquired more skills and experience than any MBA program could have provided me. That, and I helped change people’s lives for the better as a result.
I taught design and communication at Northwestern University at night for 12 years while working at the library and raising five children. It was not easy, but now I feel blessed for the skills of teaching and public speaking. The confidence it built in me was well worth all the juggling.
I have lived with financial and health challenges, alcoholics, family members with mental illness and the most beautiful grandgirl in the world diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. A lifetime of curses prepared me for the ultimate challenge–the ability to watch my son suffer for his child and shoulder his anguish–that I wish upon no one.
Now, as I search for meaning through travel, reflection and spending time with family and friends around the country, I know that I am blessed with skills and experience that will allow me to work for as long as I want to (or need to). That I am blessed with amazing children who love each other deeply and support each other. I am blessed to be a strong person who lives in gratitude and knows that I can’t always control the circumstances, but I can control my reaction–and add further meaning to my life as a result.