Cheryl Hughes: Ordinary Life
Last week, when I heard about the suicides of designer, Kate Spade, and celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain, I felt sadness and compassion, but also a sense of gratitude for escaping the hand of suicide. I stood at that door once, maybe even twice, but I decided not to walk through. Because I’ve felt the weight of hopelessness, I try to be understanding toward those who succumb to its power. I read once that faith has to do with your relationship with God, love has to do with your relationship with others, and hope has to do with your relationship with yourself. I believe that, because when you lose hope, you lose yourself.
It’s hard to know what makes a person lose hope. Hopelessness has little to do with this present day or hour or minute. It usually involves regret over the past or fear over the future. Most of us believe we can get through this hour or this day, it’s when we transcend time that gets us in trouble. My biological mom’s dad killed himself when he found out my grandmother was pregnant with her. He was eighteen years old when he took his own life. That suicide cast a long shadow over my mother’s life that extended to my sisters and me. I believe, more than anything, the desire not to leave that legacy to my children is what prevented me from committing suicide all those years ago.
I think, one of the reasons I lived with so much hopelessness as a young adult is because I expected too much from myself and from life itself. In an interview, not long before his suicide, Anthony Bourdain listed the things he had to be thankful for then said, “I should be happy, but I’m not.” Maybe, we have been taught to expect too much from happiness. Maybe, we believe happiness is the ultimate goal, and it isn’t.
Remember the scene in the movie where Jack Nicholson is leaving the psychiatrist office, and he turns to the room full of people waiting to see the doctor and says, “What if this is as good as it gets?” Maybe, that is the question we need to be asking ourselves: If this is as good as it gets, can I accept it? Can I deal with it? Can I make a life from it?
Yes, we need goals and it’s not wrong to strive for better, but if we can also live our lives with a degree of compassion and understanding while striving for better, maybe it would temper our expectations. I have finally lived long enough to be thankful for ordinary days. Days in which I get up, go to work then come home in the evenings—days which are basically uneventful. Days where I can visit with customers I haven’t seen in a while. Days where I can give dogs treats and look at pictures of new grandchildren.
I used to say, “I just want to be alone.” I now realize that would be the very worst scenario for me. I think I had that mindset because I thought if I could be by myself, I could somehow figure my way out of my problems. The one given about focusing on a thing, however, is that it gives that thing power, for better or for worse. Sometimes, you have to kill a problem by neglect. You have to focus on something besides yourself and your need to fix things.
You know that question the prophet Micah poses to the human race: What does the Lord require of you? He gives the answer in the same verse: To do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God. There is a reason that verb “walk” is there. Notice it’s not run, sprint or jog—that’s how most of us would have written it. I think it’s “walk,” because God wants us to be able to notice what’s around us, basically each other.
Not all of us will have spectacular lives—no matter what your Face book friends are telling you. But each of us will have a life, one that belongs to us and one that can be accepted by us and shared with others. Mine is pretty ordinary. It’s a lot easier to keep up with than the life I imagined for myself, and I am grateful.