Life on life's terms

Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door – Emily Dickinson

Today my 81-year-old dad’s house cleaner quit. She’s the third person we’ve hired that hasn’t worked out. My dad is getting more fragile and needs assistance.

His wife Mariellen, my stepmom for over 30 years, has had a horrible car wreck, heart valve surgery, strokes and COVID 19, all in about a year’s period. She is now in a room and board home; she can’t walk or talk. This vibrant, cocky, east-coast toughie is barely a shadow of her former self.

Neither were very health conscious, ever exercised or ate plant-based diets. Mariellen smoked as long as I knew her. But they are both still here on planet earth.

Then there are my two beloved friends in their early 60s. They have both lived very healthy lives. Physically, emotionally and spiritually – they took care of their health. They both have discovered they have cancer and their lives are forever changed.

I hurt for all four of them. I have compassion for all four of their circumstances. I wish things were different.


It grounds me to remember that I don’t know that this shouldn’t have happened. I don’t know how things should transpire. I don’t know why healthier people have died from what seems much less than Mariellen has gone through.

I don’t know why my friend that out-walks me on all our hikes has breast cancer in both breasts when she had a clean mammogram last year.

I don’t know why some people have more pain and struggle than others.

I don’t know if prayers get answered and I say them anyway. Even when I don’t know who I’m praying to.

What I have come to deeply see is that acknowledging how much I don’t know is the shock absorber when experiencing complicated, scary events.

When I think I know what should or shouldn’t happen in situations, I’m tense, I’m inflexible, I’m saying to myself, “if I don’t get what I want or what I think should happen, I have preapproved my judgment, resentment, and sometimes self-pity.” I’m fixated on the future.

With further exploration, I see that I really don’t want my loved ones to be ill, have pain, or experience suffering. And I see that I don’t want to suffer about their suffering.

The suffering isn’t from the pain or the loss, the suffering Is the resistance to the current emotions trying to move through. We’ve all heard pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. Feeling empathy, sorrow and fear is part of the human experience. Resistance creates suffering.

Living life on life’s terms, not my terms, means I don’t know what the future should hold. I don’t know what should happen or not happen. I don’t know what I can or can’t handle.

Sometimes I wonder if we innocently think we know how the world should work so we don’t have to feel the myriad of emotions that are available to us humans. We think if works the way I think it should , I’ll be happy, comfortable, and/or safe; if it does not, I will be sad, angry, uncomfortable and perhaps vulnerable.

Very predictable. Very safe. Very contained. Perhaps the intention is to protect us from the unpredictability of life.

Ironically, during disasters or sudden, shocking events, our brain’s chatter about how things should be is stunned into muteness. We are so alive because we are experiencing the event without commentary by our opinionated narrator brain. We know we don’t know.

When I was told my mom died suddenly six years ago, I let the pain tear through me like fire in the emergency room. My brain wasn’t narrating how I should behave or how much pain I should/could tolerate. Then eventually the narrator came back online and said this pain is intolerable and I gained 10 pounds all in ice cream.

When I think I know, I miss out on the excitement of discovery, the humility of oneness with all living beings on the planet, and devastation only an open heart can feel at the loss of something or someone cherished.

I have come to see that I don’t know when someone should live or die, how their experience of life should be, when someone should hit their bottom of an addiction.

I have also come to see that accepting I don’t know when I when I might be free of destructive habits or when I’ll be able to see through problems or blind spots I can’t see through now. I don’t even know for a fact that I’d be happier five pounds lighter.

Life shows us what we know and don’t know over and over again. But brains built for survival and protection, just can’t accept it. Ironically, they like patterns, but can’t seem to comprehend how little we have ever really known.

It is really a topic to explore.

What don’t you know?

Would you be freer if you knew less?

60 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All