Being exposed to terrorism firsthand (my first significant episode of community violence, to boot) taught me many lessons. Looking back, I wonder what the set-point of my life would’ve been, if you had measured it just moments before the bombs went off. Life wasn’t all champagne and roses and free upgrades to first class, certainly, but neither was it filled with despair. Moments like these, the big, memorable, and often horrific events that hit us from out of the blue, for which you could not ever prepare, cause us to take stock: of our life, of who we are, and who we want to be. Here are some thoughts I’d share with my younger self, to help her deal with the traumas yet to come.
It doesn’t matter which way you turn to walk down the street. Go the way that is best for you that day, for that moment. Maybe it’s the fastest route to your destination. Maybe it’s the way that takes you past a good friend’s house. Or a beautiful garden. You can’t see most of the big things coming. You won’t know – until it’s too late – if turning right or left leads to something horrible, so don’t spend time worrying about it.
Life sometimes really is hard. And it will hurt, no matter what you do. So, let it hurt – it’s the only way to move on from some things. There are times when the best you can do is survive. Just hold on, by the metaphorical tip of your fingers if necessary. Survive this moment. Then the next one. And the one after that.
Call out for help. People will come. Friends. Family. Strangers. People will show up for you in ways you could never imagine. This is true when you know what you need, as well as those times when you have no earthly idea what would help. Still, call for help. On the flip side, pay no attention to the ones that don’t help you in your time of need – that’s about them, not you. You’ll discover these people in times of need, too. If you can move on without them, do so. You’re under no obligation to keep people in your life if they cannot support you the way you need them to.
There is joy. It’s a real thing and everyone has access to it. Find it and make time for it. As often as possible. Dance to your favorite song alone in the living room. Or in the bleachers at a nationally televised baseball game. Sing. Watch silly movies. Play games. Eat that slice of cake; and go back for seconds if you feel like it. Find reasons to laugh out loud. You’ll really appreciate the joy in that moment. And when times get tough, you’ll have the memory to hold on to.
Hug your friends. Tell them you love them. Your life is as good as it is because of them.
And last, but not least, you’ll be ok. You’ll survive. You’ll heal. You will smile again. You’ll have setbacks. You will have to change course. And you definitely will question your map and your navigational skills. But you’ll be ok. And, as my favorite literary detective Dirk Gently says, you may not get where you wanted to go, but you’ll end up somewhere you needed to be.