“None of us get a perfect life,” she said at the end of describing years of despair after being widowed as a young military wife with two children under four. Years later, I still reflect on her words and that decades-later conclusion she’d evolved to proclaim.
As we enter this new year of possibility and challenge, it’s good I think, to remember that perspective in our own worlds. Not all of us must deal with the tragedy of sudden loss, the distress of withering vitality, or the hopeless words of medical providers; not all of us must live with perpetual violence, starving children, or utmost poverty; not all of must face hatred, injustice, or inhumanity. Some of us do live with much heavier burdens on this planet.
While I count myself among the most fortunate despite a few challenging squalls here and there, my heart turns to those who face an everyday life under grim circumstances, unimagined grief, or perpetual hardships. Their struggles make my own seem shallow, trivial, and insignificant because they are in the bigger scheme of things.
Yet even for the most fortunate – there is no perfect life. We all face difficulties and challenges and hardships along the way. Illness. Divorce. Job Loss. Family drama. Side-tracked dreams. Financial woes. Arduous sacrifices. Difficult care giving. Shattered hopes. Natural disasters. Random ill-fated chance. You name it, it’s out there. None of us can avoid heavy hearts, disillusioned ideals, or somber days (or years) from time to time. Life etches its scars either strengthening or depleting our spirits in its wake.
As the wisdom words of old remind us, “This, too, shall pass” has implications in both directions. Our life, as we know it, is always subject to change good or bad. And so, I think Maya Angelou has the right orientation for beginning this new year. As she wrote in Letter to My Daughter: “The ship of my life may or may not be sailing on calm and amiable seas. The challenging days of my existence may or may not be bright and promising. Stormy or sunny days, glorious or lonely nights, I maintain an attitude of gratitude. If I insist on being pessimistic, there is always tomorrow. Today I am blessed.”
Indeed, today I am blessed. As I am so often reminded by life’s harsh surprises, tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us. So today is where I try to live. It’s hard not to worry about the future and what tomorrow may bring. But if I let those thoughts be fed or allowed to grow, I risk squandering the time I do have on “what ifs” instead of enjoying “right nows.”
In the scheme of things, it is a fairy-tale illusion that life can be perfect for any of us. Still in this month of my annual birthday reflection I realize this about my life: it is a blessing to get older; a blessing to live in this country; a blessing to be alive in this era of possibility and hope renewed. While my life isn’t perfect, its blessings humble me.