a few inches of light

It’s incredibly touching when someone who seems so hopeless finds a few inches of light
to stand in and makes everything work as well as possible. All of us lurch and fall,
sit in the dirt, are helped to our feet, keep moving, feel like idiots, lose our balance,
gain it, help others get back on their feet, and keep going.

~Anne Lamott, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith

Most of us have been in this place at one time or another, hopeless and searching desperately for a tiny patch of light, trying our damnedest to pull it all together—or at least not let it fall apart. I’ve been there more than once in recent years.

I do believe that, ultimately, getting through such times comes down to faith. I’m not talking about religious faith. I’m talking about the mundane kind of faith that gets you up in the morning and puts your feet on the ground and points you toward the realization that you are, in fact, still here—that whatever-it-was didn’t kill you while you were sleeping last night, and the world actually continued to turn.

This is kind of a good news/bad news thing to realize. There’s the part of you that wishes it had killed you and put you out of your misery. Then there’s the part of you that is secretly a little in awe of the fact you are very much still here. Still standing, still putting one foot in front of the other, even if what you’re currently dealing with sucks and/or hurts like hell.

A couple of years ago, columnist and author Dan Savage launched an online ad campaign directed at gay and lesbian kids that had as its central message “It gets better.” What was so wonderful about the ads was the fact that, although they acknowledged (and therefore validated) the terribleness of what the kids were going through, they didn’t leave them in that place. They pointed the kids towards the light at the end of the tunnel: I’ve been there. I survived. You can, too. Hang on. It gets better.

I think we’ve all been in a place where we could use somebody standing in front of us saying just that: It gets better. Really, it does. It doesn’t go away, but it gets better. Eventually, the pain goes from excruciating and gut-wrenching to a dull ache, and if you can just hang on long enough, you can even find your way back to peace…and happiness…even joy.

I’m not saying you won’t feel your heart stop when you see someone across the room that reminds you of the person you lost, or that you won’t see someone holding a new baby and feel an ache for the child you never had. But it will get better. If you keep looking, you’ll eventually find those few inches of light to stand in, and you’ll make it work. Somehow.

Of course, when you’re in it, you can’t imagine a time when it won’t hurt. When I was right there in the middle of the awfulness, I thought I’d never survive the pain—but I did. Somehow, I came through it, and these days I often find myself in a place of deep and true joy that I’m not sure was even possible before those losses.

I don’t know…maybe it’s the contrast. Maybe it’s like being underwater, drowning, knowing that if you don’t do something, you’re going to die…and then you finally make it to the surface and inhale deep gulps of glorious, delicious air…and because you now know what it’s like to drown, you appreciate the state of not drowning in a way you couldn’t have before. Suddenly, not drowning is a wondrous thing to be celebrated, and you realize that you never want to go back to the drowning place.

My life is currently going pretty well, and I have many blessings to count. I still have challenges I’m working through, but I’m aware of a significant shift in my outlook. These days, I find that I’m determined to look for that patch of light, to look for what’s good and right and positive in my life, to focus on the solution instead of the problem, to move forward. I have my down times, of course, but I bounce back a lot more quickly now, because I know I don’t want to go back to that drowning place. I’m so, so grateful to be not drowning.

I didn’t get  to this place without a lot of lurching and falling (Anne Lamott always finds the perfect words, doesn’t she?), or without a lot of help—from friends who encouraged me and comforted me and even kicked me in the rear when I needed it, from books and quotations and blog posts that came along at just the right time, and from people who needed me to step up and help them, which kept me from getting lost in my own stuff. Nowadays, I know that sitting in the dirt isn’t fatal, that losing my balance doesn’t necessarily mean disaster, and that those few inches of light are there to be found, if only I will look for them, claim them as my own, and use them to find my way forward.