11 Nov In Your Challenge Lies Your Destiny
I’VE BEEN THINKING about angels this week, messengers of fate. I woke yesterday morning at 5am to the sound of rain softly pouring on the rooftops outside. I opened the window and the balcony door to listen, then grabbed my journal to pen a dream I’d had about my grandpa, Dicky.
In the dream I was with my family back home, but it wasn’t really home; it was strange, as dreams are, from what I recall like a painting that’s an optical illusion of an inescapable building.
My grandpa passed away and it was a celebration of him, how it was in real life when he passed years ago. But I was also crying. I missed him; I miss him. I laid there looking at the ceiling, thinking to myself, he’s an angel watching over me.
Dicky was an actor. My family always thought he would be perfect for the role of the angel Clarence from It’s a Wonderful Life. That’s what he was like, always looking at the bright side.
Ruminating in my subconscious was another notion from earlier in the week having to do with angels.
I imagined the following hypothetical scenario:
It’s seven years ago. I’m twenty-one years old. An angel comes to me and says:
At the end of your twenties, your life will be far different from what you can imagine.
There are two roads toward your destiny, divided by a choice. The choice is yours which road you’d like to traverse, for the roads may lead to the same destination or they may not.
If you travel down the first road you’ll continue as things are now, an eager college graduate with little of a plan.
On this path your life won’t be changed with a back injury; you won’t spend the next six, seven, eight years fighting to climb out of pain, although that doesn’t mean you’ll be invincible; there’s no telling what other challenges you’ll face.
On this road, pain won’t be the most useful professor of your young life, exposing the fundamentals of human nature.
You won’t change from it. You won’t grow from it, because you won’t have it.
That sounds pretty good! My twenty-one-year-old self would say. I’m scared to ask, but what’s the second choice?
On the second road you get injured.
Could have called that one.
It gets better, says the angel. You’ll wander in the darkness for years, looking for answers, feeling alone. You’ll meet countless practitioners who want to help you and who try, yet they don’t know how; results won’t explain much.
You’re not selling it, I’m afraid.
Hear me out. You’ll write incessantly to cope with something you can’t understand, for writing will become your guiding light.
You’ll turn to ancient wisdom and contemporary thinkers to understand the hero’s journey, how all heroes must head into the cave and endure a season of darkness, a trial by fire, from which they emerge changed, hardened, wiser.
You’ll break down crying to your family and friends, again and again over the years, becoming more and more vulnerable as you shed your layers to become more and more you.
With each labored step, each passing day, you’ll come to understand that we’re all dealing with something beneath the surface, no matter who we are (even angels).
You’ll realize that the only way to survive is with each other. You’ll lean on people who love you. Your heart will grow stronger. Your soul will thirst for healing, but the pain won’t stop you.
It will make you. You’ll find that this life is worth fighting for. You’ll cultivate hope from a seed to one day become the towering tree of your reality.
Shit. Way to bring it home.
And the angel would bow and disappear in a POOF and the words would echo in its ephemeral wake, and if you choose to traverse this road, years later, you may even miss those years of struggle, for they were full of not only pain but the profound meaning which most humans spend a lifetime trying to find.
It’s easy to say that the choice would be simple. In fact I originally wrote: the choice would be simple.
But would it be? Of course not.
Why would I sign up for nearly a decade of pain when there are countless surf sessions and backpacking trips and whatever else to be had in my twenties?
Why would I sign up for suffering when all I want to do is explore the world and not think about the structure of my body, allowing myself to blow like a leaf in the wind?
I think it’s a safe bet that I’d choose the road of least resistance. I’d unknowingly forgo the blessing of a challenge which my injury has been, thinking ya, that all sounds great, but… eh, I can become who I’m meant to be without the pain, can’t I?
I’d take the pain-free route, and maybe I would grow to be enthralled with writing and philosophy and history throughout this pivotal decade of my life — but I wouldn’t understand pain.
I wouldn’t look to other human beings with empathy, wondering what hurt lays behind their sullen eyes.
Perhaps I wouldn’t look to the starless sky, seeking the light of the moon as I walk home nearly every night, putting my hands together to say thank you.
Thank you for the simplest thing: another chance. Another day.
Thank you for all that I have, which is so goddamn much. A relatively painless day is a blessing. They’re accumulating more and more.
Brendan’s the first person I’ve ever come across to understand this chronic back condition. For years after injury he went through it too; he’s stronger than he’s ever been and he’s grateful for the challenge, for it literally became his destiny.
So maybe if given the choice as a wide-eyed, bushy-tailed college grad, no, I wouldn’t sign up to suffer. It’s giving myself too much credit to think I would.
But I don’t have a choice, for my challenge has been given to me like the gift that it is, one that’s changed the trajectory of my entire life, nudging my existence towards compassion, love, friendship, healing, and strength.
And for that, I’m forever grateful.
In our challenges lies our destiny. It couldn’t be any other way.
I have hope unlike I’ve ever had, a genuine path out. My body surges with energy as I think about my future, for I want to treat my body as best as I can, with love and compassion and respect with full faith that this is not the end, but the very beginning of our journey together.
I’ve told myself this for years, wanting to believe it with tears in my eyes, hoping an angel would one day come and solve the problem. But that’s not what I truly need — somebody to solve this for me.
I’ve had not just one, but countless angels looking down upon and surrounding me, family and friends and strangers, human beings who need not solve our problems, for they can’t.
All they can do — all we can do for one another with every smile, hug, laugh or word of encouragement — is say continue.
Perhaps Dicky was that angel who came to me with the choice, a gift of destiny, knowing in the end that the hard road, the meaningful road, would take me further than I could ever hope to dream — he’d be with me every step of the way.
Whatever you’re dealing with, we’re in this together. We don’t have to gaze into the abyss of the potential future, wondering if things will work out; we have today, a chance to grow, a reason to open our hearts no matter how they hurt.
We have today. In your challenge lies your destiny.
It can break you, or it will make you into the human being you’re truly meant to be, for the meaning which the angel referred to is what I feel now writing these words, for nothing gives me joy like the early morning with a blank page, a cup of coffee, and an encouraging idea which, I hope, lessens the pain in myself and in the world.