when my mom was dying you wanted to meet up with me for dinner I was late I was late because I was on a walk with my mom I didn't cut the walk short so I could be on time with you you were so mad at me for being late we argued and if I had to do it again I wouldn't I'd turn around and leave and then that time would be with my mom not you because you are a thief you stole time from me and my mom and I'm mad I'm mad maybe I'll never stop being mad my mom and I would have had a lovely dinner together at home instead she ate alone that night I might never forgive you you apologized ten years later but it was ten years too late and ten words too late and I've been thinking that maybe you feel at peace now now that you've said your words and good for you but I can't get my time back and I'm mad that I didn't leave because mom left she's gone she's still and you you're still sorrying and I'm done giving you time time for me to turn around and leave bye bye I'm gone. Listen: The Grief Episode
taking it back to my 6th grade class and I was still a Steed a boy named Jeremy I think died from cancer the answer the school gave was to hold a service a remembrance for Jeremy and me I didn't go I didn't go but I stayed in the classroom and took a study hall I couldn't bear to haul myself to that service because before he died he was a total jerk a mean and spiteful person and I I didn't go to the service people said it was a mean thing to do and spiteful but I didn't go to the service it would be disingenuous and my name was Jen and being genuine was what I wanted to do and maybe that's what you wanted to do too when five years later you wrote on the bathroom wall Jen Steed is a fucking bitch and that situation made me start to think to think about who wouldn't go to my service I do not go gentle through this good life and strife seems to find me always has but maybe it has always been me me who has invited it in to have a cup of hot coffee me I do that When I yelled at Alisa in 5th grade to Go faster on the monkey bars you're too slow! she invited the entire class to her birthday everyone except me In 7th grade I made a couple cool girls Jessica Danielle so mad they paid a sad boy named Danny to pants me to pants me in the middle of the quad And in 11th grade the writing was on the wall you wanted to call me out and I I don't think if I died you'd go to my service because what purpose would it serve is maybe the question you'd ask and I'd add that I didn't go to Jeremy's service either and whether or not you've forgiven me for whatever it was I did if I died before I said I'm sorry I'm sorry I take it back but whoever you are who marred that bathroom wall that wake-up call was what I needed My name was Jen Steed and I didn't go to the service and I bet you won't go to mine either.
hey dad it's been a minute but I wanted to talk about heaven with you and I think you're there right now sitting on your lawn chair drinking hot coffee I wanted to talk about heaven with you and tell you that I'm sorry for all the times you told me Everyone goes to heaven and I scoffed because I knew I knew you didn't understand how the gospel works you called me a princess but it was an attack and I hated you for it but now looking back I now can see how that's exactly what I was I was a spoiled princess How Dare you Defy Me Dad Don't You Know I Know more than you about life you told me everyone goes to heaven how could a god allow people to go to hell how could he do that and why and I scoffed the royal princess that I was and why should I listen to someone who wakes waiting to drink every day I was so much better than that but now I think I'd like to talk about heaven with you and say I'm 39 and not a day goes by that I don't think of you and I don't think of you in hell but how you have a lawn-chair seat in heaven and when we talk about heaven I want to tell you that I wish I would have been a better daughter later after you died I tried I tried I tried to understand your pain in life your pain I think you numbed you'd sink into grayed and fuzzed and cotton-muffled brain but we're talking about heaven and I want to say that even though you couldn't stay to make your heaven here on earth you've got it now and now I know that I don't know all the things I thought I knew and you and you are sitting on your lawn chair drinking coffee restful and content so proud of me (you were always so proud of me) I wish I could have been proud of you but it came too late you couldn't wait to leave you could not cancer decided you did not so hey dad it's been a minute but I wanted to talk about heaven with you and tell you that I am doing what I can to make my heaven here on earth and when I drink hot coffee I think of you of you of how proud I am of you.
Listen: The Grief Episode
“He was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken.” –Jack London, The Call of the Wild—
So many great “life quotes” in a book about a dog. I’ll be honest: I decided to read this book because when my husband handed it to me, he told me that it’s really good . . . and only 62 pages. I’m a little behind on my Goodreads reading challenge of 50 books a year, so a short book is right up my alley. I’ll tell you, it’s refreshing to read a book in a day. I definitely recommend it! And, wow — the vocabulary was on point. (I would recommend the book to humans who are serious about upping their vocabulary. And students: SAT test prep much?)
Interestingly, this sentence comes on page six of the book. Two great things about this: (1) London dives right into the action — already Buck has been stolen and handed over to greedy gold-diggers — and (2) the reader is under no illusion that this is going to be a happy story. I, for one, appreciate that.
As soon as I read this sentence, I knew I wanted to use it as the inspiration for a blog post. It screams, Life advice! Take heed! Listen up! Being “beaten” isn’t exactly inspiring, and it’s certainly not a place people want to be. But when we look at the rest of the sentence, we can see that being “broken” is worse. Taking a quick look at structure, we see that the two clauses are joined in two ways: a semicolon and a coordinating conjunction (not recommended by The Literary Prude English Teachers of America). But I like it. There is a punctuation mark connecting the ideas. And there is a conjunction connecting the ideas.
Such a strong connection. Let’s dive in.
I think I can speak for most of us here when I say it’s not enjoyable to run a race just to be beaten. We want to win! Or at least we want to beat someone else! When I ran track in high school (my main event was the mile; occasionally I’d run the 800), I knew I wasn’t going to be the winner coming around that fourth lap, but I also knew I wasn’t going to be last. In fact, I’d probably beat most of the other girls running, and that was enough for me. There was a certain pleasure to burn past girls and leave them in my dust. (Some might say “It was a pleasure to burn.”) If I came in last every single time I ran the race, I might realize that perhaps the mile wasn’t my event. Maybe I should try triple jump. But even beating some of the runners, I realized that I wasn’t good enough to pursue track at the collegiate level. And so I moved on from my “track career.” Buck quickly realizes his limitations when it comes to a man with a club. He realizes that a man with a club is not beatable.
But I’ll say this: there is a unique perspective we get when we’re getting beaten. Maybe someone is ahead of us, or maybe someone is above us, but we see what it looks like and experience what it feels like in that position. And if we come out of it still alive, well, we’ve come out of a learning experience! Now we know some things:
- When you see a fist descending down upon you, move.
- When you see a spear hurling at you through the air, duck.
- When you see someone about to grab the last Tickle-Me-Elmo on Black Friday, dive in front of her, throwing an elbow if needed.
You get the idea. Being in a “loser” position definitely helps us understand how to get into the “winner” position.
Ah, if only it were that easy. Just like Buck coming across a man with a club, there are certain situations where we’re going to be beaten. Every. Time. It doesn’t matter how hard we try or how much we work.
We will still fail. Someone or something will beat us.
And sometimes it’s life.
When I was 26 — happily married, happily working, happily living — I got a call from one of my mom’s friends telling me that my mom was in the hospital recovering from surgery. I knew my mom was going in for a colonoscopy, but I was really confused that all of a sudden she was recovering from surgery. And even more confused that she hadn’t called me (she lived in California; I lived in Florida). Come to find that doctors discovered cancer, and they had to act fast. I felt like a trap door had opened underneath me and that I was falling into darkness. Her prognosis was a year, give or take a few months.
14 months later, she died.
I remember telling my husband that my mom was like my anchor, and without her, I felt like I was floating farther and farther away into dark waters. Falling through darkness, floating in dark waters, I felt disoriented. Life was fuzzy, and everything seemed distorted.
I felt broken.
But I pulled myself up with God’s help (just another reason I believe in God — I don’t think I would have gotten through that experience without feeling loved by a good God). And I re-calibrated my life. I now had to figure out how to live (and be happy) without my mom. I was beaten (she was gone); but I wasn’t broken.
It took some time, but I got to a point of really loving life again. I knew it’s what she wanted for me, so I took it upon myself to take a disciplined approach to happiness. I focused on the blessings in my life, I took time to appreciate the people in my life, and I was mindful of the beauty in nature around me.
So when my dad died of cancer seven years later, I just became bitter. I felt broken again, but in a different way. I couldn’t understand how both of my parents were taken from me. And while my mom was my confidante, my anchor, my best friend, my dad was the one in my corner, yelling at me to beat the bastards (his language, not mine). He believed in me to a fault. He would take my side in all situations without knowing any details. If I disliked someone, he hated them. I remember in elementary school coming home and telling him about this girl who was annoying me, and he actually said that if it was really a problem, he’d have to beat her up. Luckily, my dad wasn’t actually violent and would never actually beat up a seven-year-old, but you better believe I felt like I could conquer the world with him on my side.
But now he was gone, too. I felt so alone. I didn’t have brothers or sisters to commiserate with me. It was just me.
It is amazing to me how resilient a human can be. I made it my mission once again to seek happiness in life. I realized once again that even though I felt broken, I wasn’t. I understood on a very practical level that dwelling on the sadness and unfairness of it all would make my life stagnate. And as our friend Einstein says, “It is the same with people as it is with riding a bike. Only when moving can one comfortably maintain one’s balance.”
And moving through life is a privilege. Not everyone gets to do it. I like to remind myself that even when life is not going the way I’d like it to go, I’m alive. Walt Whitman’s poem “O Me! O Life!” touches on the concept of living through all the struggles of life because at the end of the day we all have a purpose. Do yourself a solid, and actually take time to read through the poem. Read it all, and read it slowly:
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
So we keep going — because we’re not broken, and because it’s our imperative to contribute something to this life. For Buck, it means to mush, or basically march through the snow. For us, it’s the same concept. Keep mushing, keep moving.
I am still sad about the loss of my parents. It’s something I deal with on a daily basis, and it’s especially painful when dealing with difficult people in life. I don’t have my mom saying, “It’s OK, honey; just hang in there; I’m sorry those people are treating you that way.” And I don’t have my dad yelling, “THOSE SHITHEADS! No one treats my daughter that way!”
I’ll end with this: to experience the heights, we must experience the depths. How much greater is the view on top of the mountain after we’ve done the work to climb up from the valley? It’s been a great reminder for me as I traverse the ups and downs of life. I hope it’s a good reminder for you, too.
We might be beaten. But we’re not broken.