Stuff Happens

By Saul Levine, MD



Unforeseen roadblocks and detours can suddenly appear in our lives, as can opportunities; we might be going along smoothly when we’re confronted by a hairpin turn in the road.  Illnesses or losses of loved ones, accidents or broken hearts might occur, but we might just as easily be swept away by unanticipated good fortune or heartening experiences.

So we live in a state of some uncertainty and ambiguity, which we deal with in a variety of ways.  Some think they’re immune to bad fate.  Others take the opposite perspective: they expect bad developments, with a perpetual cloud hanging over their heads.

Most of us have learned to compartmentalize; i.e., we avoid preoccupation with vigilance by putting our thoughts of danger into a safe compartment in our minds, so that the unpredictability of life can’t interfere with our everyday lives.  We try to prevent problems as best we can.  We might childproof our homes, eat healthy foods, and avoid dangerous situations, but we realize that we can’t stave off disastrous acts of Mother Nature, or prevent all accidents, or always keep our loved ones safe and sound. Tragedies are a natural part of the ebb and flow of life, like wildfires in overgrown forests.

When confronted with either tragedy or triumph, we are advised, “Ride the waves, be cool and composed.”  But we are emotional beings, not robots.  We seldom anticipate pain, which is always unbidden and unwelcome, and we are prone to cry when we experience losses.  When we benefit from good fortune, we might exult and enjoy the glow of the moment.

While a sense of invulnerability is foolhardy, when sad events occur we need to remember that time, help and people will eventually make things better.  After the initial shock and feelings of helplessness, most of us gather our thoughts and bring our strengths to bear.  Just as loss is never an ultimate defeat, success is never an ultimate triumph.

In periods of calm we need to cherish what we have, because we know that blips will occur on our radar screens.  How we face our setbacks and accept our successes are good measures of who we are, because both are merely transient changes in our long paths. Unexpected curves and daunting hills will appear on the road of life, but so will exciting new challenges and lovely vistas.

“Stuff” will indeed happen, and change will occur.  But rest assured, the pathway will, inevitably, return to a state of quiescence and stability.  As Rudyard Kipling put it,

“If you can meet with triumph and disaster

and treat those two imposters just the same,”

you are a better person than most.

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