Archive for September, 2010

Grey’s Anatomy. It’s a TV show about a group of surgeons at a Seattle hospital. (This story would have more impact if you know the characters and see it, but hopefully it will mean something anyway.)   In this episode a surgeon has performed this incredibly complicated surgery to remove a brain tumor that was growing down into a young man’s spine. The patient was forewarned that there was likely to be a lot of pain afterward.

The surgery is successful.  Then comes a scene where the doctor gets paged and rushes to the room where we see the patient, physically disfigured, purplish and swollen from the surgery,  thrashing around, writhing in pain.  The nurse can’t restrain him.  His mother is in the room crying and saying “I never should have allowed this.”
The surgeon comes over, puts his hands on the young man’s shoulders to subdue him and says:
“Listen to me. This is the fight. The pain’s gonna stop. We’re gonna help you, but this is your  fight. You’re in the driver’s seat. The tumor’s not driving anymore. You are.”

Then the surgeon turns to the mother and says:
 “This pain is not a dying pain. It’s a healing pain. It’s a victory pain.”

I had tears in my eyes, not just from the scene, but because I see so clearly the emotional parallels.  I am the patient. I am the mother.  And I am usually even the surgeon.  We’ve all been there at times in our lives. Not with a physical surgery to remove a tumor, but with emotional surgery to remove something unhealthy in our lives.  Change itself can be incredibly painful sometimes. There can be after-effects that make us question whether it’s worth it, whether we made the right decision in changing whatever it was that needed to be changed.

There have been times in my life when, in the aftermath of making a choice to change something,  I have been emotionally writhing and have had thoughts of “I should never have allowed this” in my own life.  But I’m the one who has made the choices to deal with whatever emotional tumors I had to remove in order to really live.  They (whatever needed to change) are not in the driver’s seat anymore.  I am.  The pain  – which is quite likely to be temporary – is not a dying pain – it is a healing pain.

It is a victory pain.
Wow. What a powerful image.



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you’ve got this

I went to the park today to relax and read a book and ended up witnessing something wonderful that was a perfect image of life and relationships. I’ll just tell you the story. I don’t even need to explain the symbolism. You’ll see it right away.

It turned out that there was a high school cross-country meet happening there.  In this big park I had just happened to choose a spot that was the starting point and finishing line of this race. The race route went all over the park and took them past where I was sitting twice and ended up there also. As I watched them I felt tears on my cheeks. It wasn’t from the runners, but the cheers of the spectators:

“Good job!”   “Come on!”  “You’ve got this!” “Don’t stop!”  “You can do it!”  “Keep going!” “Finish strong!” “You’re almost there!” “All the way – all the way!” “You look good!”  “You’re so close!” “Don’t slow down!” “Kick it to the end!” “You’re right there at the finish – you can do it!”

Some of the runners did finish strong. Some looked weak and doubtful. Some kicked it into high gear at the end and others barely made it across the finish line.  As some of the runners finished they came back and lined the course to cheer on the others. The last guy was way behind the rest, but still running. They were still cheering.  “Go Andy, you can do it!”  He must have known he was in last place. It wasn’t about winning. It was about finishing.

Then it was the girls’ turn. They’re all running the same race – different speeds, different strides, but the same course.  A little while after they passed me I heard a crowd of spectators on the other side of the park, cheering them on.  Then this crowd took a shortcut to come back to the finish line.  A voice called out “Clear the course – here they come”.

The girls get the same cheers. Their teammates also came back to cheer them on. They are tired. They’ve trained hard. Their goal is to finish – and finish strong regardless of their place in the race. One girl slowed to a walk and her teammate came up right beside her, pointing to the finish line and said “You’ve got it – it’s RIGHT THERE!” and the girl started running again.

As I sat at the picnic table watching, a couple was also sitting there waiting for their daughter. She approached them in tears saying “I’m sorry”.  “For what?” her dad asked.  “I fell”, she said. As they talk I eavesdrop and learn that she passed out along the course. She felt like she had let people down, but her parents, coach and teammates were all just concerned  about her health.  Everyone falls sometimes. The important thing is to get up again. She will run again next time.

Her younger sister was also sitting there at the picnic table. She heard what happened and got out paper and markers to make her sister a sign.  It was her name with words for each letter. As she read it to them, there was one that stood out: 

“I” is because she’s perfectly imperfect”.  


And that is the perfect ending to the story.

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traffic jams

It was just one of those days.

I overslept, for starters. I was supposed to be at work at 7:00 and I woke up at 7:10.  On the way to work I encountered an angry, impatient driver. Then once I got to work there was a lot of noise in the office that made it very difficult to concentrate.  I didn’t feel well. I was tired because I had a really restless night sleep. I was dealing with the emotions of saying goodbye to friends who are moving halfway across the country. My knees hurt. I didn’t like how my clothes looked. My shoes hurt my feet. I didn’t like my lunch. People were asking annoying questions. I didn’t feel like working. I got an email from someone who I thought was a bit rude and inconsiderate. An encounter with a friend left me feeling disappointed and wondering about the friendship.  Then a work situation developed that brought up feelings of inadequacy and frustration. After work I went to the pool to swim and it was too crowded to swim laps.  Individually, none of this was catastrophic.  Individually I could deal with them, but collectively they just made the day a mess.

 It made me think of a traffic jam. There are times when I’m driving along and traffic slows to a crawl or even stops. Sometimes the reason is apparent like an accident or road work or rush hour traffic. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be a reason – just a lot of cars on the same road. Getting frustrated and impatient doesn’t get me anywhere. It doesn’t accomplish anything except to make my drive even more unpleasant. I have no control over the other vehicles on the road. I don’t have a magic wand to wave to get myself out of the situation.

 What do I do in a traffic jam? If I sit there thinking about what an inconvenience it is, that just makes it worse. If I honk the horn, it doesn’t speed up the traffic. I can put on some music. Listen to the radio. Look around at the scenery. Be thankful that I have a car to drive and the ability to drive it. I can accept the situation for what it is. I can’t get away, but the more I focus on other things, the better it gets. All I can do is accept, be patient and trust that the traffic will start moving again.

 It is the same way with an emotional traffic jam. All those things were happening in my day and I had no control over most of it. I couldn’t change the fact that I had overslept. I had no control over the other angry driver (nor did I even know why she was angry).  My friends are moving – I can’t change their plans. I didn’t have an extra pair of shoes to change into. I didn’t have an alternative for lunch. I couldn’t stop people from asking annoying questions since answering those questions is part of my job.  I couldn’t unread the email or make the sender have better communication skills. I couldn’t change the encounter with my friend or alter the situation that occurred at work. I couldn’t kick people out of the pool so that I could swim laps.

 What COULD I do? I could accept the parts I can’t change and recognize what I do have control over, which is my response to it all. I can keep moving forward with my day, even if it seems like it is inch-by-inch, doing what is in front of me to do.

 I’ve started learning to just ride it out. Sometimes emotions get a little bottlenecked and it isn’t one particular thing. Sometimes I can’t even identify specifically what the problem is. It is just an emotional traffic jam.

 Take a deep breath. Trust that it will not last forever. It will clear up and I will keep moving forward.

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