When I was a child, and even into my young adult hood, I always felt like I had lived a blessed life. Sure, we moved around a lot - more than average - but that was about the worst thing that had ever happened to me. I had three sisters that I loved and mostly got along with, parents I respected and enjoyed and appreciated, and because of all that moving, some experiences that could never be duplicated. I went to high school in Egypt, after all, and my graduation ceremony was held at the base of the Giza Pyramids. No, I'm not kidding. Who can say that?
Even after my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 17, I eventually reclaimed that blessed feeling. It became that "thing" that happened to my family, once, long ago. It was our "bad thing." Everyone has to have one, right? At that point, I still had all four of my grandparents and had never been to a funeral. In fact, the first burial I ever went to was after I was married, at the age of 30, for my husband's grandmother. I'd never really known anyone that had died. My aunts, uncles, cousins were all alive and well. They, too, were fairly blessed. No illnesses, no diseases or afflictions, no real life-issues, at least as far as I knew then. Like I said, we lived a blessed life.
In my sophomore year of college, my grandmother was also diagnosed with breast cancer. At that time, it was bad and it sucked, but knowing my mom had beat cancer two years before, I don't think I expected different from my grandmother. And for the record, my grandmother is a nearly 16-year breast cancer survivor, still alive and well, and as persnickety as ever at the age of 88. So is my grandfather. You can see why I always felt lucky. And years and years went by with that.
Oh, there was the occasional blip on the radar...a painful breakup, a minor fender bender, a tornado that came precariously close to my parents' home, tonsillectomy at the age of 23...the mundane things of life. None of them felt particularly life altering.
Cue the rest of my life.
Jamie and I met when we were 27. We have been together 8 years now, and despite the struggles we've had and the painful experiences we've shared, I am so, so grateful for every minute of those 8 years. But I've also, with each passing year and the tally of "Why us?" moments, begun to lose that lucky feeling. My dear friend Sarah calls it "the statistical shitstorm." If there is a statistical anomaly, we will find it. I have begun to live my life as though we are enjoying peaceful moments between the proverbial shoe drop. Because if you'd lived our life, you too would feel like there's always going to be another shoe.
That first moment was a diagnosis of colon cancer for Jamie at the age of 28. Do you know the odds of that? It's pratically unheard of, especially considering there was absolutely no family history and Jamie had no diagnosed health problems that might have indicated that likelihood. Following that, the economy began to falter and Jamie has spent a great deal of time unemployed because of the nature of his job in construction. He's struggled to reinvent himself, but I give him tons of credit for the fact that he refuses to give up and let others define him.
We had Faith in 2009 and have since I think felt like we are living between those shoe drops more and more. I won't delve into the list of experiences we've had, but needless to say that most of the people who know us agree that we've had more than our fair share of bad luck and heartache. I just told a friend the other night that sometimes I feel like we could inspire soap opera story lines for years and years. No one could write the life we've had. Between us and our immediate family, it seems that we are due for some good.
I can honestly say that I am a very different person than I was a few years ago. Life experiences change you. I still feel like I'm a pretty positive person most of the time, able to find the silver lining. I am choosier about how I spend my time and with whom. I am not as open as I once was...don't so much wear my heart on my sleeve. I'm less of a social butterfly and prefer to keep close to home, close to my husband, and surround myself with the friends and family we are closest to. Social events with lots of new people are more stressful than enjoyable, and I often avoid them unless there are a few people there that I know and can use as a buffer. See, meeting new people means small talk and small talk means questions like, "How many kids do you have?" It becomes exhausting to navigate your life when this is your life. When you look around and ask, "How did this become my life?"
I haven't been to a baby shower in three years, and I don't have plans on going anytime soon, though I probably would now for the right person in my life. All of this is a defense mechanism.
Most days are good days, but every once in awhile, something knocks you off your feet and opens old wounds and once again, you have to pull yourself up by your boot straps.
Sometimes I think back to the 25-year old who lived such a blessed life. And I wonder who she would be now. Because she isn't me. I am truly blessed in so many ways. Maybe all of this is just what life is, and I just got really lucky for the first part of my life. And I'm well aware that there are many, many people with much worse situations than us and that we are very fortunate. We have friends and family and an amazing network of loved ones. I have the love of my life, and could not get through each and every day without him (though sometimes he makes me nuts.) So, maybe this is what this part of life is about...discovering the fact that life exists between shoe drops. And to enjoy them while you can, while they happen and never, ever take them for granted. Because the next shoe that drops might forever change the life you know.