Sometime in mid-October, I developed a cough that decided it didn’t want to leave. Without going into extensive detail (which I’m happy to do for any medical professional who cares to offer an opinion), I’ll share that I’ve now been coughing and generally feeling crummy for three months. Which means that I haven’t been sleeping for three months. Add to the formula a colony of “little friends” (term affectionately coined by my husband) had taken up permanent residency in my daughter’s hair, significant parenting challenges with multiple kids, a particularly full home at Christmas, a son who had been up the entire night due to an ear infection (seriously? I though we were way past those), and now a broken tooth. I’d say that I needed that like a hole in the head but… well, it all starts feeling like a bad joke.
I’m acutely aware that the challenges I’ve faced in the last months are minor compared to those of so many. I don’t have a serious illness, I have an amazingly supportive family, and we’re able to procure medical help when needed. Nevertheless, there has been a modicum of grief. I’ve missed a dear friend’s baby shower and first baby being born, I couldn’t help another friend through a move, my cherished time reading aloud with my children has been limited significantly, and I haven’t been able to exercise in months. I’ve grown weary of waiting for life to return to normal, and have experienced a strange sadness as life for those around me has continued without my involvement. I feel like a spectator watching the parade go by, only to be left behind.
There are many ways we experience being left behind. Illness, the intense needs of young children (or aging parents), significant struggles in marriage, shame from the past, and disappointment in friendships only to name a few. Everyone else seems to be happily marching along – at least if we believe the one-dimensional messages we receive via Christmas newsletters, Facebook updates, and in cordial conversations in the hallway at church. We place our hope in life “returning to normal” and wait for the storms, and for the loneliness they often produce, to pass.
But perhaps there is a greater gift to be gleaned than the return to normalcy…
“…as long as you keep pointing to the specifics, you will miss the full meaning of your pain. You will deceive yourself into believing that if the people, circumstances, and events had been different, your pain would not exist. This might be partly true, but the deeper truth is that the situation which brought about your pain was simply the form in which you came in touch with the human condition of suffering. Your pain is the concrete way in which you participate in the pain of humanity.” Henri Nouwen
I believe that this challenging season of life will not be wasted. My hope is that I will develop eyes to see more keenly others who feel left behind, ears to appreciate the more subtle music of those around me, and a heart that will be softened and enabled to love more deeply. Both the in the small inconveniences in life and in the large tragedies, there is greater purpose.
So if you find yourself watching the parade pass you by, take heart. Know that even in our loneliness, we are not alone. And one day, we will gather together at the ultimate celebration, under the Great Banner, when every thing sad will indeed come untrue.