Several years ago I was kayaking on a peaceful alpine lake in the Sierra looking at the cliffs around the lake and the twisted junipers growing out of solid rock when a thought struck me as strongly as if someone had said it out loud: Grow where you're planted. I've had many opportunities in the years since receiving that message to contemplate its meaning and basically have come to believe it simply means to learn the lessons from whatever life brings my way. It's not always easy and sometimes it's even harder to watch those we care for struggle with that message which sounds so simple yet is often so hard to apply.
A young friend of mine is carrying more than her share right now. Unlike many young people, she worked hard to make the right decisions throughout her life. She carefully chose a husband who shared her values around faith and family. They waited for several years before starting their family wanting to make sure their marriage was sound and that they were ready for the responsibility. When the children came, they both worked hard to build an exceptional family life. It always made me happy to be in their presence ... their children were bright, polite and charming and their relationship was loving and mutually respectful. But, things change and people change ... in this case, primarily, her husband changed. Whether through mid-life crisis or simply a re-evaluation of what he needed from life, he recently left the marriage and the family.
After supporting her husband through years of school, my friend decided this year to start her own education so she is now in the midst of a new career as a student and trying to find her way as a single mom, alone for the first time in many years and trying to survive financially. Additionally, she recently lost the grandmother who raised her and who was her primary source of solace and support. Most of us who've been around long enough know that "this too shall pass" and gradually the pain will diminish and in a few years, she will be stronger and perhaps even look back at this time as a positive in her life. But, how does she cope with the pain and betrayal she feels each moment right now? How does she find the energy to go forward with her education, comfort her children who have lost the secure world that once was theirs, and hold onto her faith in such a trying time?
To look at my friend you wouldn't know that she is carrying this burden. She looks "normal." But then, most of us look normal. The burdens we carry aren't worn like tattoos across our skin. Perhaps if they were, we would be more caring and considerate of each other. There are few of us who aren't wounded in some way ... perhaps if we could see the scars and bandages, we could be a little more gentle, a little less callous toward each person we meet. Perhaps each time we meet someone we should silently acknowledge the unseen burdens they are carrying and let our hearts be gentle with them.