I heard this motto on a guided meditation and I love it because it articulates in a much catchier way a lesson I learned about four years ago. Later this month, my family will mark the fourth anniversary of my brother Rob’s death from melanoma at age 27. In the immediate aftermath of losing him I felt many things, including anger. Now I am not naturally a very angry person–I’m more prone toward depression, which some consider anger turned inward–so to walk around feeling so bitter and furious with the world was new to me. Of course, anger is a natural part of the grieving process, but I didn’t want to get stuck there. I was a new mother at the time, so I needed a way forward that would allow me to heal and care for my baby.
As the months passed I read as much as I could about what happens after we die and what the meaning of life is. I considered religious perspectives and read books by psychics and people who’d supposedly had near-death experiences. I came away from my research with a strong sense that we are here to love and learn. Our relationships and how we treat other people are the most important parts of life. Adversity and failure are invitations to learn, grow, and deepen our empathy for others. Achievements and material prosperity are just icing on the cake. It’s good to have goals and there’s nothing wrong with wanting things, but that isn’t our main purpose here on Earth.
My little epiphany helped me let go of the anger coiled inside my chest. I stopped resenting people whose siblings were still alive and families who seemed to be a perfect picture of happiness. I resolved to approach everything that happened to me, good or bad, with one question: What can I learn from this?
It hasn’t always been easy to maintain this attitude, but I’ve observed over the years that everyone faces loss or adversity at some point. The person who seems to have it all today is the person who, next year or the year after, will get divorced, lose a job, say goodbye to a loved one, find herself in a bad car accident, and so on–the possibilities are endless. When life is going well, enjoy it and “save up,” so to speak, for the eventual darker days. When things don’t work out the way you wanted them to, try to find the lesson from your situation and have faith that you’ll come out of it sooner or later. As a wise friend said to me in the most intense days of my grief, “The only way around it is through.”