In every life there comes a point when you have to make a decision about how you will live.
It is this broken road with pitfalls and sharp turns and unexpected traverses that has brought me joy and adventure.
– Alice Walker
Something Eva and I have spoken about at times over the last weeks is trying to continue living by our values, even when life appears to be sub-par on some fronts. This has often been in relation to parenting; aiming to still parent by our values even if energy is lacking, impatience is more prominent, or our general tolerance of little people is less than usual.
This morning Eva was discussing about aiming to ‘make friends with discomfort’ in 2017. For her, the discomforts are many and multifaceted and are not limited to the discrete physical symptoms associated with treatment for breast cancer. The complex psychological effects of living with this illness and its treatment continue to surprise us, as well as the inevitable emotional instability associated with tiredness and stress and anxiety. The previous night we sat through a monologue by a well-meaning gentleman who was recommending alkalinated water, manuka honey, and purple carrots (no joke) for the management of cancer. Now, I’ve no issue with alternative medicine, but I do have issue with a lack of evidence for a treatment. I drank at least two glasses of wine during this, and our host fortunately then brought out the port. Eva listened very graciously whilst I imagined creative ways of hiding purple carrots about his person. Might have been a kick-start for him making friends with discomfort.
At breakfast Eva and I discussed further this making friends with discomfort and amended it to making friends with vulnerability and discomfort. The last weeks’ journey has been one of vulnerability in different ways. The sensation of being vulnerable to a life-threatening disease process; the vulnerability towards treatment; the vulnerability of our family to this massive emotional and practical upheaval; the emotional and psychological vulnerability we have all felt as individuals; and Eva’s more complex and deep-seated vulnerabilities covered in other posts about how this process of cancer will change many things about her (see A head of hair, a breast, two ovaries, and a slice of identity; Cancer’s haul.)
Another understanding of vulnerability is how we have related to others through this. This blog has been a vulnerable process, sharing intimate and partially-formed and conflicting and uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and responses. There was the paradoxical wish to protect Eva and our family and close ranks, with the desire to be open and honest and share the intricacies of this process, as best as we were able. We recognise our need to be open and to involve others, but this necessitates vulnerability as we accept help and kindness and love and care, of quite mind-blowing proportions. I have tried to understand why it is, at times, uncomfortable to accept the care of others. The superficial answer would be pride; it is at odds with our individualistic and self-protecting society. But I don’t think that is the over-riding feeling for Eva and me. I think the vulnerability partially relates to receiving something that we don’t know if we will ever be able to ‘repay’ to others, and accepting that it is not something that necessarily should be repaid. We have tried to be conscious that people enjoy caring and giving and showing their concern in the midst of this hairy bollocks situation, and do not want to disrespect them. (Doesn’t that in itself sound snobby and self-protective? ‘I allow you to help me so that you receive the benefit of not feeling disrespected.’ Boak.)
The fact is, for some people, and we include ourselves in that cohort, it is just scary to accept that people might simply be good, kind, loving, compassionate, generous, and, frankly, beautiful. We grew up with an oft quoted Bible verse ‘call no man good’, and it was instilled in us that we were all born in to sin, we are sinners who are inherently evil and deserving of death, and that soon God will destroy the world and take a chosen few to the new Jerusalem whilst the rest burn in the fiery lake for the rest of eternity.
Funsies. Quite the way to form the world view of a child, regardless of what one believes.
I know it is not easy for many to unquestioningly accept kindness from others, but it has been a great lesson and experience for us. It has demonstrated to us the strength in being vulnerable; as we reach out to others and they respond, we feel supported and not alone and cared-for. We have asked for and been offered help, and it has been given unreservedly.
This evening I was thinking about values in relation to something else. I came across a core values list (http://jamesclear.com/core-values if you want some ideas) from which I chose six which have been significant for me over the past two to three years, but which I want to cultivate and focus on living by in 2017. They are:
- inner harmony
Authenticity to continue being open with others to engender genuine relationship. Authenticity to acknowledge the discomfort and vulnerability, to work with it, and not to repress it. Balance in my attitudes, views and opinions. Listening to and wanting to learn from others (purple carrot man excepted (joking, he was very nice, but it was late, I’d drunk too much, and we weren’t up for stopping chemo and surgery for dodgy coloured root vegetables)). Emotional, psychological, spiritual, relational and physical balance. Compassion for my wife, my children, people I meet in the day-to-day, people who have so much less safety or resources than me, and so much more suffering. And some for myself too, as it makes sense that unless we are compassionate towards ourselves with our own weakness and foibles and character deficits, we will find it difficult to show the same to others. Determination to care for others, to pursue my goals, to work hard at whatever I’m doing, to believe that I can make a difference. Inner harmony obtained by paying adequate attention to physical, spiritual, emotional and psychological health, and living by my values in my relationships, job, and creative endeavours. And optimism, that people are, generally, kind and good and thoughtful and loving. (Don’t worry, I’m not deluded.)
Wishing you all perseverance and hope in 2017; the commitment and strength to live by your values; and a lot of success with purple carrots and a mobile water alkalinator (I know someone who can get you one).