“Freedom is instantaneous the moment we accept things as they are.” ~Karen Maezen Miller
Seemingly for months now, upon learning anything new, my seven-year-old daughter has asked me, “Is it good or bad?”
Not brushing at night—good or bad? One hundred degree temperatures—good or bad? Water leak in the furnace—good or bad?
Some things are more obvious than others, but it's the stuff in the middle that requires a more subtle explanation, especially as I go through life with the stress and anxiety of trying to both deal with uncertainty and figure out life in the “new normal” called chaos.
I wrestled with trying to make her understand that sometimes life is neither good nor bad—it just is.
But like any child trying to adjust the settings on her moral compass, she had difficulty in trying to understand that there can be some things that fall neither in the good nor the bad category.
Recently something happened that tested this notion and, in some strangely profound way, might have helped me find a way to explain life (as I understand it) to my seven-year-old.
My wife's grandmother passed away.
Having been raised by her grandmother for most of her young life in India, my wife was distraught and sad. Although my daughter had very little contact with her great-grandmother, given the vast ocean that separated them, she could tell that her passing affected her mom deeply.
At first we didn't know how to explain the passing to our chirpy and inquisitive child. So we didn't, for a day. We avoided it. But then, as seven-year-olds do, she overheard me on the cell phone explaining to someone what had happened.
Almost instantly, a happy-go-lucky child became eerily quiet upon hearing that her mom's grandmother died. She didn't have to ask if it was good or bad. It was bad.
But is it?
Yes, of course it's bad. It is terrible to lose someone you love. To miss them in your life. To miss their presence, their support, their encouragement, their love.
But it's a fact of life. We all have to go at some point. While it's not a “good” thing, you can't get around it.
I tried to help my little one figure out her own feelings by explaining, “Babe, it's sad that mom lost her grandmother. She will be missed because she brought so much love into our lives. But it's neither bad nor is it good. It just is. Because that's what happens in life.
“She was in her late eighties and had a tough life. It was her time, and some say it was good that she didn't suffer so much more, and some say it was bad that she didn't spend more time living. But we have to remember that this is something we cannot control, so it's neither good nor bad. It’s just the way it is.”
While my daughter couldn't fully explain her thoughts, I hope she understood what I was trying to say.
Having to explain this to her made me realize how important this lesson is for me as I learn to deal with the uncertainty of life, the uncertainty of a career, and the uncertain nature of all that is around me.
What I realized is that sometimes I put way too much emphasis on trying to figure out what is right and wrong.
What is the right path and what is the wrong path. What is good with the world and what is bad. What I like and what I don't like. What someone thinks and what they don't think.
With so much unpredictability in life and chaos at work these days in our uncertain world, what I have learned is that it really doesn’t matter. It really doesn't matter if we label life as “good” or “bad.” It just is. It is the way it's supposed to be.
All the overanalysis, overthinking, overplanning, overlabeling—all of that doesn't accomplish anything. Putting a label on something doesn't help me feel better!
In fact the opposite happens: You freeze and get stuck overthinking, trying to compartmentalize everything. You get overwhelmed by the chaos of life.
So much of our stress and anxiety come from our attempts to attach a “good” or a “bad” to the challenges we encounter in life. We believe things ought to be a certain way. We feel things in life should be generally “good.”
And when they aren't, we feel really hurt. We feel disappointed. We feel burned. And we stop moving forward. We stop experiencing the full array of choices life has to offer during our journey.
Our reluctance to accept the fluid nature of life is at the center of so much of our paralysis.
I believe that, in order to deal with uncertainty and the chaotic up-and-down nature of life, we have to accept that life just is and embrace the chaos that we inevitably encounter.
Life is just the way it is supposed to be: unpredictable, good, bad, ugly, and great, all rolled up into one incredibly short experience.
As I tried to explain to my seven-year-old daughter and continue to remind myself in times like these, it isn’t really that important whether something is bad or good.
What’s really important is that life just is—and that we should stop worrying and get on with living it!
Photo by Cap'n Jo