Patience Is a Virtue: Tragedy and Success Are Not Opposites

This week marked an anniversary I haven’t recognized in a long time. Twenty-one years ago, my husband (then fiancée) and I were in a serious car accident with a friend of ours. It feels overly dramatic to say it was a near-fatal accident because all of us are walking around living pretty typical suburban lives with jobs and kids and lawn mowing. But, the reality is, it was nearly fatal. This year, it suddenly jumped into my mind while I was out for a run one morning. The whole thought spiral went like this: I was jogging along, pondering why, after three years of running for exercise, I can go only three miles at my natural pace. Then I remembered that two years ago I wasn’t even able to run one mile. Four years ago, I wasn’t able to spend a day walking at the zoo without being in pain for days afterward because I was bordering on morbidly obese. I had to admit I was making progress, albeit slowly. The old joke, “How do you eat an elephant?” came to mind. And then it hit me. Twenty-one years ago, I was using a walker—talk about making 3 miles look like a marathon.

When life goes south, it seems to do so all at once. One minute you’re on your way to the lake for an afternoon of fishing, the next you’re being cut out of a wrecked car and your fiancée is being airlifted to a trauma hospital. But life seems like it takes a long time to go “right” when all you want to do is run five miles instead of three. I have yet to wake up suddenly richer, thinner, or more fit, while there have been several times where things have gone from everyday to tragic in the space between breaths. Oddly enough, both situations—life going wrong in a heartbeat and life going right being a process—serve the same purpose. They make us who we are. They teach us perseverance. They show us that right now is not all there is.

No matter what your pain is right now, today, it won’t be there forever. Not all pain is equal. Some pain goes away completely. Like an everyday headache, the devastating breakup with your high school sweetheart will hurt for a time, but one day you’ll look back and wonder what you were so upset about. Other pain leaves scars. Our accident left physical scars and emotional marks, but as time has passed, it is no longer painful. Severe pain may be sore, to some degree, forever. Like an arthritic hand, there will be some days where the pain from a tragic event is so excruciating it is impossible to believe life can go on, while other days will be stiff and sore but manageable.

No matter what your success is right now, today, it won’t be there forever. The thing about success is that what is success today becomes ordinary tomorrow. As I mentioned, two years ago I couldn’t even run a mile. Today, a mile is warm up. Success is like a drug. It feels good in the moment, but once that feeling wears off, we find ourselves chasing the next success to get that feeling back. We need to run more miles, earn more money, get the job on the next rung. And while success in itself is not a bad thing, we can find ourselves addicted to it. Chasing success can consume us, until one day we suddenly realize that, while we were chasing the next thing, life has passed us by.

Whether in the midst of success or trial, take the time to really be present in it. No, you don’t have to enjoy the difficulties, nor do you need to stop reaching for success. But wishing you’d get out of the painful parts, or to the goals, faster will rob you of important lessons to learn in the “getting there” process. Be patient in the processes.

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