I don't believe in coincidence. I think that we are supposed to pay attention when experiences group themselves, when we see the same unusual things again and again, when we hear similar things from different sources one right after the other. I think that maybe this stuff is a gentle nudge from God trying to get your attention, to help you to look around you, to encourage you to look up, to help you to learn.
Yesterday when I woke, there was an old quote running though my mind, one that I've always believed to be true. The quote is from 19th Century British art critic John Ruskin:
The highest reward for a man's toil
is not what he gets for it,
but what he becomes by it.
It's not about what you are paid; it's about what you learn. Every experience offers the opportunity for you to become something more; even the littlest skill can be important to what you need to do in the future. What we do forms who we are. Our choices and our experiences create the future.
When I got online shortly afterward yesterday morning, I happened to read some reports for Arashi's Japonism concert series. And there was a translation* of an aisatsu (greeting) from member Ninomiya Kazunari about the theme of the concerts, "How will you live your life now?":
How will you live your life now?
This isn't a question everyone can answer. I think it's a question
only for people who keep giving their all.
There may be days when you think, 'Why even bother with any of this? What's the point of doing homework, anyway?'
Well, I don't think there really is any meaning to it.....
but the act of doing it can give it meaning.
There are so many things in life that seem pointless.
Doing the same old thing day after day.
Doing homework every day.
But if you stick with these things,
you will find meaning in them.
and your actions will yield more options,
more choices you can make.
I want you all to become
people who have many, many options in your lives.
There it was again. We are formed by our choices, and one of those choices is how we view what we are experiencing. We can't give in or give up even when we can't see the reason behind it all. We can become more human, have more experiences, live better lives when we make the most of what is available to us. We must not waste our chances.
Later in the day, I went to my favorite local grocery store. As I was chatting with a young cashier (hey, this is Mississippi, folks here like to talk with everybody all the time about everything; it's just nice and normal), somehow the subject of life challenges came up. I got bullied a lot as a child for always being the new girl in school (we moved often) with their weird name (it was considered to be only a boy's name back then). This is what I told her,
I am grateful for that experience.
It taught me a lot.
That's how I learned to speak up.
I don't think we should protect people too much
from stuff like that.
Being hurt is necessary sometimes.
We can't learn what it means to build the strength to cope
if we don't have hard times.
We learn to sympathize with others when we know what it means
to feel hurt and to have to move forward anyway.
There it was for the third time that day: Our actions are resonant; they have meaning. Cumulatively things will eventually make sense. These experiences become opportunities for growth and for change and for moving toward something better in the future.
I figured God must be tapping me on the shoulder when the subject of actions and choices came up for the fourth time when my friend called to discuss some concerns. I told her,
Sometimes we shouldn't rescue people from their own mistakes
because we may be robbing them of the strength that they need
for building a better future.
It's okay to make mistakes.
We benefit from the experience of knowing
what it means to fail and to have to rise again.
I can relate. There were too many times when I wasn't allowed the experiences that I really needed, when my parents held me far too close, when I wasn't allowed to step out into the world. There have been consequences from that which I still battle daily. I needed to be allowed to fail, fall, and rise. I am doing so now, and it helps me to become stronger.
We hear so much these days about helicopter parenting, about protecting people from "microagressions," about making everything fair and even and nice. But, judging from my own experience, that's cruel. It robs people of the opportunity to learn the ability to cope, to have the experience of struggle and build strength, to gain understanding. We have to love others enough, to be compassionate enough, to stand by while they skin their proverbial knees, while they learn to stand, while they learn to walk forward. Because we have also fallen and failed and risen again, we are ready to empathize. We understand that failure and unhappiness are necessary for growth. We know that life hurts. And that hurt helps us to appreciate the goodness around us even more.
We earn what we learn. The highest reward for our efforts is becoming better human beings. And we need to remember to listen for the small lessons and to pay attention to those shoulder nudges from God. When we fail and when we fall, it is an opportunity to gain. We have to get up and try again.
It takes me longer than other folks to accomplish stuff. I've been trying and trying and sometimes wondering if it was all worth the necessary effort. I needed this day of reminders that, even at this late date, I am still becoming.
Life is good.
*My sincere apologies for not giving credit for this translation. I simply printed the quote out because it resonated with me, and I didn't make attribution for it. If I find it later, I will edit accordingly.