Winslow_Homer_004“Don’t worry. It’s nothing.”

Someone very close to me just had one of those unhappy medical discoveries that may or may not be something bad. I’m amazed at how many people have said to her, “Don’t worry, it’s nothing.”

I want to say it too. Not just to her, but to everything happening. Don’t worry it’s nothing. Except it often is really something.

All of which got me thinking, how do we deal with those things that are Really Something?

My friends in Greece are going through something right now I can only imagine. And I ask myself, how would I deal with that happening to me, in my country? Thinking of my fellow African Americans, who leave their home each day with the odds doubled against them that they won’t come home again, because of a hate-related crime. And I ask myself, how could I handle that? Would it be with the same dignity I see demonstrated? The New Yorker just published a story on the Big One happening here, in Oregon, and I think, who will I be in that crisis? Will I be that person who helps others, or will I, like poor Corporal Upham in Saving Private Ryan, cower and cry, while people die? My mother is visiting, and I have to help her because her fingers no longer obey her will, crippled with arthritis. Her hearing is going, her vision fading from macular degeneration, her spine crumbling, her gait unsteady. And yet she’s happy to sit in the meadow, feel the breeze, and thrilled to ride the new tram in Portland. Will I be that graceful when my faculties fade, when I have to wait, patiently, for someone to take care of me?

I’m writing about others, but it’s also me. My summer is filled with losses, current and impending. So imagining the unimaginable is something I find myself doing daily. There’s a program running in the background, contemplating and processing big questions while I go about my day, managing minutiae, executing the chores of life.

When I first started working with people, I didn’t have much life experience. At 25, I wasn’t in a place to dispense advise, or to bring my vast life experience to bear on people’s issues. But that was OK, because I saw my role as helping people manage and relate to their struggles, both inner and outer ones, and help them find their way through.

I was probably more focused on methods than meaning. Anxious to be of service, I was concerned with what I should do, less so with the questions, how are they dealing with it? How would I deal with that?

But now I do. It seems I can’t get it out of my head. Whatever life story lands my way, I ask myself: how would I deal with that? Would I have the fortitude, strength, or grace to manage that? I marvel at the forgiveness of others, of grace under pressure, at leaders who live in a firestorm of withering criticism, of people who brave daily hardships, of lives ripped asunder by illness, or death, or stark economic reality.

How do I pair optimism and realism, how do I pair love and friendship with impending loss and illness? I am not the first person to write about this. Others have done far better expressing this than I have. Entire world religions are built upon this crevasse, like the Cascadia subduction zone miles beneath my feet.

I am asked to help people sort through the pros and cons, the ifs and whats of big decisions, decisions that affect not just their lives, but the lives of others, as well.  And I notice that the more experience I have, the more I know, the less certain I am. I am no longer 25, no longer eager to offer tools to get by, because now I know, we don’t really get through the things that confront us. We are transformed by them. Within them we find ourselves, our tasks, who we are meant to be. So when storms rock our little boat, and we have the chance to find something deep and sustaining, then, for a brief moment, like the sun peeking through the clouds, the thought pops up: it will be ok. I will be ok.