Well something’s lost but something’s gained
In living every day…
I’ve looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose, and still somehow
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all…
Joni Mitchell, “Both Sides Now”
If there’s ever one thing I know for certain, it’s this simply stated fact: the more I think I know about life, the less I understand.
And the older I get, the less sure I become…about anything.
I spend my life trying to make sense of the world around me, trying to find the reason for experience, the lessons to be learned, that greater purpose to be served. But sometimes I wonder if there’s a reason for anything; sometimes I wonder if we’re not meant to understand life at all. Sometimes, it all seems so senseless.
I don’t understand how in such a populated world, we can still feel so lonely. I don’t understand how people can be so easily forgotten, discarded, like a worn-out pair of shoes. I don’t understand why loved ones are taken from us before we’re ready to say goodbye.
And I don’t understand why bad things can happen to such good souls.
I see this more and more the older I get, though I wish I could change that, wish there was some small way of preventing this undeserved pain.
I first realized that life was in every way unfair throughout the course of middle and high school when a classmate who had become one of my closest friends fell seriously ill. I didn’t know what to expect, having not yet experienced anything like this before. Yet, I knew that I wanted to be there for her, to do whatever I could to help her. She was my friend, and I wanted her to know I would always be hers.
I spent a lot of time at her house throughout those years. When she wasn’t well enough to come to school, I would drive to her house in the afternoons or early Saturday mornings for a visit, where we would play any number of board games — Hotels, Disney Trivia, Monopoly — and sing along to musicals. Though we promised her mom we would get started on some of the schoolwork she had missed, we would instead run up to her room and play the original Sims, building the biggest, most extravagant houses while decorating the yards with a hundred pink flamingos (we were quite the virtual horticulturists).
It was a time of complete innocence shadowed by an illness that no one her age — no one ever — should have to endure. And while I remember our conversations as we sat on the wood floor, watching her rabbit explore the hallway, while I remember our Dawson’s Creek marathons in the living room on weekend afternoons, there’s still so much more.
I remember her fatigued eyes, her pale skin, the understandable hopelessness that was shadowed on her face. I remember her smile when something cheered her up, her infectious laugh that made you giggle right along with her.
I remember her strength.
I remember the hope in her voice and the tears of relief and happiness that stung my own eyes when we found out she was blessed with a transplant. I remember the phone calls afterward wherein she would tell me stories of the friends she met while in recovery. I remember how much I prayed. And I remember thanking God for that miracle.
Our senior year and into college, we gradually began to lose touch and our friendship faded, as time and distance always play their part. But I still think of her and look back on those days in fondness. Throughout the years, I would wonder what she was up to and send a quick message of hello. Still, I’d feel a pang in my heart as I remember the depth of the friendship that we had shared, as I remember all she had taught me just by being her.
Recently, I saw a status update from her on her Facebook stream and read that she was working as a nurse for a hospital in Philadelphia — something that she had wanted to do ever since her own experience. And once again, I felt the familiar sting of tears as memories came flooding back and my heart filled with happiness for her. I have been blessed to have known her, to have loved her, to have been her friend. And I can’t help but be so very proud that she is finding her place, her happiness, her way of helping others.
I don’t understand why things happen the way they happen in life. I don’t know if we’re ever supposed to. But I can continue to believe that there’s a reason for it — that there’s a reason for everything.
Maybe these experiences are what help us learn to love; maybe — directly or indirectly, these experiences prove to us our own strength. Maybe they build the bridge for compassion, and maybe that compassion is what grows and helps us to replace that loneliness with a sense of comfort.
Maybe that’s all we can ever ask for in this world…A place to find comfort.
And a chance to provide it when someone needs it most.