Have you ever bought a new car, and from that point on, you see those cars everywhere? I’ve noticed that I’m experiencing a similar phenomenon: I’m searching for meaning and insights about life, and I’m seeing them everywhere. In books, at the movies, around my dinner table.
Last night, we had some of our best friends over for dinner. And at one point I realized, almost every single one of us had lost a parent or child to cancer, and/or have a parent currently fighting cancer. One friend is also a cancer survivor herself. Another friend shared that his mother was diagnosed just this past week, and they were waiting for more test results.
We had a great evening, filled with laughter and wonderful food (made by my husband, the chef of the family). But it was also a reminder of how pervasive cancer is, and how ruthless. As I looked around the table, I was suddenly aware of the strength of this group of people. Here we were, each of us with several good reasons to be angry and sorry for ourselves. But instead, we were strong. We were survivors. We had been victimized by cancer, but we weren’t victims.
Today, I saw the movie Bridesmaids with a bff. And again, I noticed a profound life lesson weaved into the many hilarious scenes. The main character, Annie, has a series of “setbacks” as her best friend is preparing to get married. As her friend’s wedding day approaches, Maid of (Dis)Honor Annie struggles — until one of the other bridesmaids confronts her: “I don’t associate with people who blame the world for their problems,” says Megan to Annie. “The world isn’t the problem… YOU are the problem. But you are also the solution.”
And then Megan proceeds to tackle Annie and pin her against the couch. “What are you DOING?” screams Annie to the husky woman tackling her. “I’m your LIFE, Annie. FIGHT BACK!” yells the bridesmaid in Annie’s face. Eventually, Annie finds her will to fight back and get this crazy (hilarious) woman off of her. (Or something like that… I wasn’t taking notes at the time. But I do strongly recommend the movie, so go see it and tell me if I’m remembering the scene incorrectly.)
This movie, and my friends at dinner last night, reminded me of two things. First, it feels great to laugh. And second, life isn’t fair. Life is hard. Life often challenges us and makes us want to give up. Sometimes life just plain sucks. But we can choose to find our will to survive, and FIGHT BACK with everything we have… or choose not to. But either way, it’s a choice. It’s our choice.
And sure, “our loss” provides me a great excuse for defeat. Some people appear genuinely surprised when they first see me out and functioning in my daily life. But why would I choose defeat, why use that as an excuse? Couldn’t “our loss” be just as effective as a motivation to “fight back” for a joyful life again? Why not focus the emotion and energy into becoming more aware and engaged with life?
We all have our losses. My loss is a lot more public and significant than most, but I had “losses” before Julian died, too. And I’m sure I’ll have more “losses” in the future. We all will. That’s the point of life. It’s a cliché because it’s true: You can’t have ups without some downs. But with each loss, big or small, public or private… we don’t have to surrender and become a victim of our lives. We have a choice.
We can’t control whether or not we are “victimized” (verb) by others or by life in general, but we CAN control whether or not we are “victims” (noun). We have to CHOOSE to be survivors, and take action. And as my friends and I discussed at dinner last night and after the movie today, when we are faced with the ruthlessness of cancer — or any other significant challenge that life throws at us — we have to make a choice: Survive, or not survive. Option A, or Option B.
I choose Option A. I choose to survive. I am a survivor (noun).
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