Doing it with Grace?

I’ve always wanted the word “graceful” to describe how I live through the Hard Things life throws my way. At its core, this desire is based not on how I perceive my own actions, but the subjective interpretations of others. In many ways this contradicts the stance I have taken that I care little for what others think. Guess what? I’m contradictory.

This desire to be seen as graceful during stressful events stems from more than one source. First, I do not want to disappoint anybody. The praise I receive for my strength feels like a burden that I must shoulder while fighting my way through troubled waters. It doesn’t help that I am one of the above-mentioned “anybodies” who I am afraid of disappointing. When life gets hard, I feel like a newly blinded person walking an obstacle course, increasing my feelings of inadequacy–for who wants to feel as though they cannot manage to cope with their life without crashing into everything in proximity?

Oddly enough, I cannot actually articulate what it would look like to live through a Hard Thing with grace. Does that mean I don’t complain? Am I supposed to avoid self-pity and always seem totally alright? Maybe I get to fall apart but only a little bit on alternate days. Perhaps I can cry but only if it doesn’t make my eyes red? I want to behave in a manner I cannot even describe, which highlights the ludicrousness of the entire thing.

Turning to the dictionary for help proved to be rather useless. Abstract definitions of graceful, such as “characterized by elegance or beauty” offer nothing concrete. By whose yardstick do we measure elegant, and isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder?

Next, I tried talking to my yoga buddy to see if I could verbally express the state I wished to reach, coming up with things like “never fall apart,” “never complain,” “don’t need anything,” and “always be positive.” As the words passed my lips, I heard their failings. Not showing others how I feel is a type of dishonesty I endeavor not to commit. Furthermore, I lack the ability to be entirely self-sufficient and my sense of humor, with its sarcastic tendencies, is not suited to perpetual sanguinity. If those phrases describe grace, I am not capable of exhibiting it.

TV and film offer a plethora of examples of people living through Hard Things with grace almost as if they pass through the experience protected by the emotional equivalent of Teflon. Whenever I watch such things, I feel judgment pouring out of the television directly at me, a dented frying pan with a surface so scratched that half the scrambled eggs stick to the bottom. There has to be some middle ground between damaged to the point of uselessness and so pristine that nothing has penetrated.

A friend observed that those who stoically live through tribulations are often praised because they make witnesses feel better. Not only are the observers spared from watching someone in pain, but they are comforted by the idea that should they have a similar trial in their lives it will be equally routine.

In the above I may have finally found some useful truth. Relentless optimism in the face of a difficult situation ignores part of the experience life is offering. Life’s Hard Things are meant to make us feel a myriad of emotions, and relentlessly wallowing in the negative is considered unhealthy. Perhaps it is equally destructive to remain determinedly positive, for there is no joy without sorrow and no sorrow without joy. Maybe, just maybe, allowing yourself to feel whatever happens to grow within your heart is true health. It’s possible that truly living means you must fully experience every emotion. Could true grace be following a course through turbulent waters that zigs and zags while you maintain the certainty that you will reach your destination on the other side?

Now I don’t have a word to describe the quality I wish to possess while I wend my way to the other side of a Hard Thing, but I finally know its nature and that I possess the ability to engender it in my life. I want to embrace all the emotions that pass through me and express them without the clutter of self-judgment. Though mine might be sarcastic and ironic at times, I know humor must be a part of it. And through it all I will possess the bone-deep belief that I will get to the other side having lived all of it – the good, the bad and the comical.

All this is simply words on a screen that mean little unless I can actually do it in the face of a Hard Thing. Well, I am in the middle of such an experience, and in fact wrote this entry to try and sort out my feelings. One of my eyes has decided to use pain as its means of expressing a desire to no longer be of this earth. Removal in some form is on the horizon, and my attitude has not been what I would like. I now have a clarity about how I wish to live this next little part of my life. May clarity go further than the end of my nose.

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About Jen

After acquiring a degree from Vassar College in psychology, I moved to Western Mass where I ran a peer mentoring network for disabled college students as well as activism and organizing around disability issues. I also conducted research on disabled women’s body image. An Upstate New York native, I eventually followed my heliotropic nature to the sun of Southern California. I divide my time between writing (disability fiction and essays) along with moderating San Diego Bisexual Forum which is one of the oldest groups of its kind in the country. In my off hours I can often be found in my neighborhood live music venue enjoying our local talent.

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