"You are so lucky," wrote a reader in response to one of my recent columns. "Most people don't live life in the full way you do."
My initial response was cranky.
It's hard to see the "lucky" in Richard's brain cancer, and in his second brain surgery in the past eleven months. It's very hard to see the lucky in the pathology report on the latest tumors: Grade 4, as bad as brain cancer gets, with a prognosis I have no wish to invoke here, or anywhere else.
It's hard to see the lucky in my mom's recent diagnosis with Alzheimer's Disease, leaving my 82-year-old dad to manage her care with me "assisting" from three hours drive away.
It's hard to see the lucky in my daily struggle to carve out "me time" in order to write, the one thing that saves such sanity as I retain, and restores my spirit.
After getting over my crankiness though, I think I understand: I'm fortunate to have potentially rich opportunities, to be able to make the kinds of choices I make, and to be living a full, present, relatively gracious life with all the above.
That's "luck," I suppose, the kind that takes some mighty hard work to recognize. (And it reminds me all too much of the proverbial Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.)
We don't get to pick what life brings us. What power we have over events and circumstance lies in how we respond.
We can choose to learn from what life sends our way–I'm certainly learning much about life and how to live it gracefully and generously from this journey with Richard's brain cancer, plus my mom's Alzheimers. As a writer of personal essay and memoir, I am also accumulating stories to use to illustrate that hard-won wisdom. Does that make me "lucky?" I suppose you could say so, even while admitting that it's tough luck indeed.
Choosing to respond openly and graciously to life's challenges pays off. For instance, on the days when I'm able to avoid sinking into the muck of overwhelm, I am able to notice the riches of my moments–the warmth of sunrises and sunsets, the gift of love, the sound of sandhill cranes' haunting calls as they wing high overhead, the sight of fringed gentians blooming in vivid blue or aspen leaves flaming gold, the feel of frosty air at dawn.
Those riches surround me every day. Whether I see or feel them is my choice.
Not that the choosing is either simple or easy–it's not. But those choices determine whether I find mind- and spirit-nurturing beauty and happiness in even the most difficult of days, or not.
Luck's hard work, not happenstance. It's the attitude to you bring to life, the spirit you cultivate, the way you are in even the most unassuming of moments.
That abililty to find the flashes of luck in any situation is something that can enrich your writing as well. Think about it next time you're struggling with your work and ask yourself: What choices am I making? How do they affect the stories I tell? Can I choose to frame my writing differently? How would it change if I did?
"We become the stories we tell ourselves," says psychologist and author Mary Pipher. What stories are you telling?