One of my friends is anticipating the publication of her book, “The Poor Man’s Feast”. I don’t have an advance copy, but I have advanced knowledge of the author – I’ve known her since she was one of my campers (the fact that we are now peers seems generationally impossible – and yet…). If you ever need additional delight in your day, check out her blog of the same name.
Lissie’s book is an autobiographical account of her life with family, friends and food. They are inextricably connected and her stories both amuse and intrigue; her recipes (some of which I have tried) are drool-worthy. You would think that she would be reveling in the excitement of this achievement. Certainly those of us who love her are celebrating her success with choruses of encouragement and congratulations. And yet, Lissie has worries that are not hers to own.
Yesterday she wrote me about some recent familial experiences which have prompted anxiety about the anticipated reaction of some of her relatives to her book. Although names have been changed and she has the talent to allow her voice to ring with sincerity and love, she is fretting about some of the less-than-kind comments that have come her way lately from some members of her tribe. I think my response to her was incomplete, despite my efforts to be supportive.
Another friend of mine is trying to find her sea legs after being upended by the tragic impact of Hurricane Sandy. The family business was seriously damaged, requiring too much negotiation through the bureaucratic nightmare that governmental agencies and insurance companies seem to require. Perhaps perseverance is a an unwritten rule prior to receiving relief – they winnow out the weak who give up with resignation and despair. Not Jo – give her a cause and she will rally passionately. Which is all well and good unless your heart feels like it’s being cracked in the process. And though the plant is officially up and running, the residual emotional exhaustion is a toll no one should have to pay. You’d think high premiums and ridiculous deductibles would be enough, wouldn’t you?
And another friend who is self-employed, ponders daily about what she should be doing or could be doing to bring in more business. How to effect a paradigm shift in companies who are holding onto stasis as a dog might covet a bone. As she expends hour upon hour considering alternative and creative ways of changing mind-sets, she ends up questioning herself and works hard to avoid the temptation of an abyss of self-doubt.
What do these situations all have in common (other than my incredible love and respect for these women)? The search for meaning. The gnawing, relentless question of how to contort one’s self to fit into a current reality. But what if these aren’t questions for us? Perhaps these aren’t our lessons to learn, rather the lessons for those around us. What if this is a lesson for Lissie’s family – to learn (or not) the ways we love and accept and delight in another’s gifts? For others to learn the adverse impact that a non-stop revolving door has on customers who have placed their trust in your promised services? And a company to learn that nothing from nothing really does leave nothing, and in order to thrive you have to change that which is obsolete and ineffective?
Sounds simple, but on a very fundamental level, I think it’s hard to grasp. We choose to think that every lesson is for our edification. And though I believe that we do ourselves a great injustice when we miss those instructive moments, I think we do ourselves an equally profound disservice by thinking that each life lesson is somehow karmically presented for us. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar; sometimes an ‘a ha’ moment is designed for someone else and we are just bit players in their story.
Perhaps I write this because I so want my friends to be happy. Because I think each of these women is so phenomenal and loving and talented and smart that nothing but joy should govern their days. Maybe though it is a message for us all – the sacrilege of stating that not all of the universe’s intent is for our benefit. And in those moments, when we accept with humility that it is about others, we can offer the greatest example of what we have already learned – to love.