Thursday, February 28, 2013

Mountain Climbing

Everyone faces challenges in life.  Although you can easily feel like you're all alone in the midst of a challenge, it's almost a surety that others are facing the same struggle at the same time, and sharing that overwhelming sense of despair, loneliness, worry, and frustration with you.  Over the course of the past several months, it has seemed that the people closest to me have been charged with an unusually severe lot of life's challenges.  As I've observed my friends and family take on these "mountains", I've found myself analyzing how it is that they've chosen their particular paths up the mountain.  I know...stop it, Jen.  

But every one of my family and friends in their specific situations has in many ways been training to meet the valleys of these mountains and take on these climbs.  They probably don't always realize it, but the smaller struggles that they've encountered in life up until this point have prepared them (in many ways) for what they're up against now.  More than likely, these mountains will one day look small in comparison with the next mountain range with which they'll find themselves face to face.

Here's an example - my ex - let's call him "Anthony".  Still a good friend, we've maintained contact since our split a little over two years ago.  When he and I were together, Anthony was rather distant from his family, and he preferred to keep that distance.  I, however, have a strong familial bond with my big, fat, Greek family, and they seem to be constantly in my business or me in theirs.  Through the years that I spent as half of the couple "Jen & Anthony," I showed him the value of keeping family close, relying on them and supporting them when necessary, and I like to think he caught on to some of that, and grew closer to his own family as a result.  When I was diagnosed with cancer in September 2010, Anthony and I were living together.  I knew my world was about to rapidly change, whether I wanted it to or not.  I thought then that even though Anthony and I had our issues, he was my best friend, and when the shit hit the fan, he would come through for me and be there for me 100%.  I thought that I had done such a good job of welcoming and incorporating him into my family, that he would follow-through as I'd expect one of my own family to do in a time of need.  But when I got that life-changing diagnosis, I learned that I was wrong about Anthony.  He didn't know how to be there for me and support me through that.  He reverted back to how he knew to stay safe in a family - by keeping his distance.  And he lost me.
Anthony's younger brother was in an accident this past fall.  Let's call his brother "Paul".  In his early twenties, Paul could have died; he could've been permanently brain-damaged; he could've been paralyzed for the rest of his life.  Anthony and his family were devastated.  Anthony could have hidden his feelings and detached himself from the situation and carried on with life as he knew it.  Paul was living in another state, and they saw each other rarely (holidays and other special occasions).  Instead, Anthony showed up at sunrise; he changed his life to fit with Paul's changing life; he started to climb full-speed up that mountain; he knew and feared the possibility that if he didn't start climbing, Paul would fall off his mountain and out of Anthony's life forever.

Maybe his sense of loss over our romance and depth of friendship was his prep-work for what would happen with Paul.  Anthony said to me recently over a bottle of wine, "I want to be there for him the way I wasn't there for you."  The fact is, he's kicking that mountain's butt now, and I'm proud of him for even taking it on in the first place.

When I think of the mountains I've personally had to climb in life, there has always been an adjacent challenge that came first to prepare me for how to handle it better when the real mountain appeared.  I guess everything happens for a reason; and everything happens when it should, as it should.

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