It was 3:33 in the morning. I remember glancing at the clock and thinking “isn’t it supposed to be lucky when the numbers are all the same? Shouldn’t I make a wish?”
Marcel was sitting on the edge of the bed. “Are you on your way to the washroom?” I asked. When he said no, I ducked into the washroom myself.
It was 3:34 when he said to me “I think you might need to call 911. I’m having chest pains.” Suddenly, I didn’t feel so lucky anymore.
“It can’t be serious enough for an ambulance,” I thought, so I grabbed my clothes (rather begrudgingly) and said “I’ll take you to emergency.” A few hours later, we found out it was serious. A heart attack. He was rushed in for an angiogram to determine what was blocked (around 3:33 in the afternoon, incidentally), and before long they’d inserted a stent and his blood was flowing the way it should again.
I was reeling. Could this really be happening? Could I come this close to losing my husband so soon after losing my mom? Was this some kind of cruel joke and I just hadn’t gotten to the punchline yet?
For the next three days, Marcel was confined to the hospital, hooked up to a heart monitor that measured every beat. As much as I could, when I didn’t need to be feeding the kids or driving them to work or swim practice, I sat with him. In one of those visits, I bought an Oprah magazine in the drugstore downstairs. I don’t usually buy magazines, because of the pressure they put on us to lose weight, be more attractive, have a better sex life, and just basically fix our flawed lives, but I needed something to keep my mind busy, so it seemed like a reasonable option.
In the magazine was an article by Martha Beck about how to survive the roughest of rough patches – when multiple crises pile up on top of each other and threaten to bury us. It seemed timely as I sat in a hospital room just two short months after watching my mom die. Calling it a rough patch seemed like an understatement.
Martha Beck calls those patches “rumble strips”, meant to wake us up and let us know our life is heading in the wrong direction and we need to course-correct. “It gets worse and worse,” she says, “until we wake up, see through our false assumptions to the deeper truth of our situation, and revise our life maps. This isn’t punishment. It’s enlightenment dressed as chaos.” When we hit the rumble strips, she continues, we need to hit the brakes on our lives, put our minds in reverse, and find the path that’s more true to who we are.
It makes some sense, and there have been times in my life when I’ve definitely felt like something woke me up and helped me change directions. Losing my son Matthew was one such time. In the years following his stillbirth, I completely changed course and ended up in a place that was much more true to my calling.
But here’s the thing… This – I am quite certain – is NOT one of those times.
My overwhelming response to Martha Beck’s article was “This is not wisdom I need to heed right now.”
I have already made a lot of changes, taken a lot of bold moves in the direction my heart was calling me, and course-corrected multiple times. I’ve quit a good-paying job (more than once), I’ve soul-searched, I’ve agonized, I’ve surrendered, and I’ve learned to trust the path I’m on. I am doing my heart’s work, helping women (through my teaching, writing, and coaching) live and lead with courage, resilience, and authenticity.
I do not need an article by Martha Beck or any other guru to tell me to take another deep dive into my heart’s longing. I’m confident that I’m where I need to be. The thought of more soul-searching and course-correcting just fills me with dread and heaviness – not what I need right now.
What I need is simply to trust that I can survive this and that whatever learning is meant to emerge will come when the time is right. It will deepen my work, but it won’t change it.
I don’t intend this to sound like a criticism of Martha Beck or her writing. I have great respect for her and there is much wisdom in the article. She says, for example, that one of the things we should do is “Find and follow smooth terrain,” and that I can agree with wholeheartedly. More than anything, I need to seek out ease right now.
My primary point in writing this is to say that, if an article or book makes you feel worse instead of better, then it’s not meant for you. If it sends you into shame or convinces you that you’re grieving wrong, you have permission to throw it in the trash. If it tells you that you need to become somebody new instead of grow into your true self, then set it aside and reach for something else. If it requires of you that you do more work than you’re prepared for right now, put it away until you’re ready for it. Or reject it all together.
When I was in another hospital in another of those rough patches nearly a dozen years ago, waiting for my son to be born after a failed surgery meant to prolong my pregnancy, a well-meaning friend gave me a book about surviving the hard times in our lives. The author of that book said that those rough patches are punishment for some sin we may have committed. I quickly discarded that book. I didn’t need to sit there in guilt worried that something I had done wrong was causing the death of my son.
It takes confidence to tell ourselves that the wisdom of some highly respected guru or author is wrong for us, but it’s often just the thing we need to do to be true to ourselves and find the path that is uniquely meant for us. No guru, no matter how wise they are, can ever fully know the path you need to follow or the wisdom you need in order to find that path. They can serve as our guides, but we have to use our discernment to know when their advice doesn’t fit.
At the end of the day, you need to trust yourself and the Divine Guide that resides within you.
I can’t tell you why I have to go through so many challenges right now. Some day, I may be able to find the meaning in it all, and perhaps some day I’ll change my mind and say that it was exactly as Martha Beck said it was. I’m open to that possibility. I know from experience that there is much more clarity in hindsight.
For now, I can simply set the article aside and continue to trust the path I’m on and know that, even when the path gets bumpy, I have the courage and strength to take the next step.