the things that shape us

This week has been a tough one. Mercury’s in retrograde, and the astrology-inclined amongst us would be inclined to blame the planetary alignments for all the current misfortunes.

Maybe it’s true, who’s to say really. But I think more likely is that this life is such a turbulent mix of good and bad, and sometimes the bad wins out.

The primary reason I moved to San Diego is because my friend Carissa suggested it. I lived with her in Italy nine years ago, and then again when I was finishing college in Massachusetts.

We met at the airport in Rome, the first day of our semester abroad in 2009. By the time our bus arrived in Orvieto an hour later, we were practically best friends. We clicked instantly and people assumed we had known each other for years.

We then found out that our parents lived just a short distance from each other in Illinois. When we returned at the end of that semester, we introduced our parents and they became fast friends.

A couple of years later when I dropped out of college, I lived with my parents just twenty minutes from hers. I didn’t grow up in that area and didn’t have a lot of friends there, so I frequently hung out with my parents and Carissa’s parents. We played trivia once a week, we took in movies, we played board games. I adopted her family as an extension of mine and they welcomed me into theirs with ease.

Last week Carissa’s mom passed away, succumbing unexpectedly to the cancer she’d staved off for years. I cannot fathom my friend’s pain, but I share a small portion of that grief. It’s a sadness there is no relief from; one that we must simply sit with.

The day I found out about her death, I also learned I needed car repairs that cost approximately 4x what I had in the bank.

And again the same day, my friend in Thailand who was struck suddenly with a brain hemorrhage and spent months in the hospital, gave birth to a son. And then immediately began preparing for brain surgery.

This weekend I flew out to Chicago for the funeral and a mix of conflicting emotions. I saw my mom and brother in law and all of Carissa’s family for the first time in months. I spent precious time with Carissa and Dylan filled with laughter and tears in equal.

This feels like an accurate picture of what life is. It is overwhelming beauty and overwhelming pain. It is the joy of instantaneous friendship, the warmth of extended family, the breathtaking miracle of new life, the gripping fear of sickness and uncertainty, and the heart-shattering sadness of death.

I think the hardest thing is to feel it all. To be open to life and all it offers, embracing the joys and the unbearable pains. This is what I’ve been trying to do for the last year…to sit in these feelings. To experience life for what it is.

Sometimes it feels too much. I feel it all too much. But as harshly as I feel these pains, I feel the beauty just as much.

In heartache I have seen strength. In tragedy, I’ve known support. I am sometimes deeply crushed by the hardness of this life. But I remain because I am equally surrounded by its goodness. My life has been made dramatically better for the gracious people who have come into it, even when I have to grieve when they leave it. Life is hard. Life is good.

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