That saying was embroidered on a beaded African belt I saw that caught my attention at the Santa Fe Folk Art Festival. I love thinking about times in our lives where we have run into obstacles as times of commas. We may not know whether something is a comma or a period until after it’s over, like a serious illness, but I like the idea of taking a wait and see attitude about things instead of assuming the worst.
In my writing class I talk about using commas to make things clear or to put in a pause. We can use commas in our lives in the same way. When my husband was waiting for his liver transplant, we didn’t know whether he would live long enough to receive one, but he never lost hope that he was just ‘waiting.’ He kept looking forward to the transplant and being able to move on after that hiatus in his normal life. He experienced a big pause, but then went on.
Sometimes a comma in our lives gives us time to think, or just to be. We can get a different perspective, or even go through a transformation, or maybe just rest. A co-worker told me her breast cancer gave her justification to slow down in her work life as a lawyer and spend more time with her family.
We may think life has dealt a fatal blow, only to find recovery on the other side of it. Especially as we get older, it’s easy to think that a diagnosis of cancer or a brain tumor is the end of the road, but I know people in their seventies and eighties who have recovered from them. Resilience is a trait that needs age and experience to ripen. You have to have lived some and had some things happen to you to acquire the attribute of resilience.
Often the event is not the end of life but the end of a relationship, an ability or skill, an activity, a way of life. These kinds of endings can feel like a period. When you can’t ski the black diamonds, or can’t hike the difficult trails, or need to stop running because of your knees, or you can’t play tennis, or a friend moves or dies, or you don’t have the money to travel the way you used to, or you can’t breathe very well, it can feel like the end. But there are modifications, adjustments, compromises you can make. This is where experience and creativity come into play. As long as you can cultivate some curiosity, you can stay engaged and involved. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, think about what you still can do. What are those things you never had time for before? Maybe it’s time for bridge, or bird-watching, or reading, or walking, or swimming, or meeting new people. The runner becomes the walker, the walker becomes the swimmer, the cook tries out new restaurants, the politician becomes the painter.
And then there’s always love. As we get older, it becomes clearer that it’s not what we do but who we are that makes us someone other people want to be around. A person who radiates love is like a magnet. Others are attracted to you. We finally can learn the lesson that it doesn’t matter what we do, but who we are. That’s our essence. That’s what we came here for. And that’s something, someone, we can always be, regardless of the commas in our lives.