A path is a funny thing. The dictionary defines it as a “trodden way” or as a “track constructed for a particular use.” But it also says a path is a “way of life, conduct or thought.” For most of my life, I had seen my path only in terms of creating a track for myself, a destination for my goals. I hadn’t considered that my path could be the journey as well as the destination. Cut adrift from my television career after sudden illness, trying to find my way back to wholeness, I felt lost. “Don’t worry,” some advised, “when one door closes, another opens.” That may very well be true, but there seemed to be little guidance for standing in the hallway when that first door has closed and the next has yet to reveal itself. Sometimes our next chapter isn’t immediately obvious and the road map through uncertainty can be murky and fraught with fear and anxiety. I languished in the hallway for months.
Once I was able to stop mourning the loss of my on-air career, and trust me, it took a very long time, I discovered the skills I had acquired over a lifetime of working as a TV journalist were surprisingly adaptable to a life after broadcasting. While I no longer glam out on a daily basis for the camera and live blessedly free of pantyhose and high heels, I am still able to effectively research and report on issues of importance. I am still able to give voice to those who have none. The help I have been able to provide to loved ones in crisis has proven to be some of the most important work I feel I have ever done, utilizing skills I honed over a lifetime in news.
Stripped of the free tickets, the good seats in restaurants, the constant recognition that came from my on-air work, I came to realize that although these were wonderful perks and great for my ego, it was the work itself that drew me to the world of journalism, the ability to be a force for positive, meaningful change in the world whether I was being lauded for it or not. Television was a great platform for showcasing my work, but the platform was ultimately less important than the work itself.
Growing up, I never understood why people cried at weddings. After all, these are joyous occasions. But when I recently attended a family wedding, I finally got it. There is a poignancy now to these events that I just never felt when I was younger. It is the longing for the loved ones who are no longer here – the knowledge that life is short – the promise of love in the face of all that life can bring and knowing that life can bring sadness as well as happiness. All of this makes these moments – moments of love, joy, promise and family – more powerful to me than ever before, more capable of moving me to tears.
I wish I had a better grasp of all these things when I was younger, but it seems to be a hallmark of being young in this world that we fail to fully understand how fragile our timelines really are. To the young, tomorrow extends into infinity. Possibilities are endless. There is the feeling that somewhere out there is the event horizon – that elusive edge between light and dark – always far enough away to keep it distant and out of focus. Then, as we live and age, the cycles of life and loss begin to assert themselves around us, which is why the weddings and christenings and graduations take on such significance – they are moments that remind us that despite our losses, there will always be light in the world somewhere, even if it shines on others and not on us.
We are carbon based life forms, made up of the same amino chains and proteins that sustain all life on this planet. Our bodies, like produce in the supermarket, will eventually lose its freshness and expire. Our spirit, however, is entirely something else. And that is where I believe we have a modicum of control – we can choose how we view the world, as one of loss, or one of change. We can see ourselves as simply flesh or as spirit made manifest. We can make our time here meaningful or simply take up space until it’s time to go. It is up to us to find the gifts that wait for us in the darkness.
My Irish heritage is a melancholy one, celebrated for its legendary angst. “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy,” wrote William Butler Yeats, “which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.” Writers like Yeats can make melancholy seem romantic, but it rarely is. Mostly, it’s just sadness and regret hooking up in some back room of the heart. The key to moving forward in a life touched by pain or loss seems, to me, to be in our willingness to leave regrets behind and reach for forward momentum, but I don’t think there are any easy or formulaic ways to help offset the passages that will eventually touch us all. How we handle our challenges is deeply unique to who we are. Life changes and marches on with or without us, eventually without us for sure. We can either stay in the darkness of despair or we can find a way out back to the light even if we have to crawl there. But we need to be gentle with ourselves and with others and not push for immediate reconstruction when we have lost our way. New paths take time to reveal themselves. Heartache, like all healing, has its own process and can’t be hurried. In one of life’s many paradoxes, it is time itself, the slippery thief that came in and stole from us the ones we loved, the things we loved, that is also often the very same thing that will heal us.