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I’ve been thinking lately about when life doesn’t turn out the way you imagined. Giving up cherished dreams and embracing a new reality is hard. But it is also life. What is it John Lennon said? “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”

Back in the 1960’s Aaron T. Beck developed a cognitive therapy for those experiencing depression. It is called “reframing”.  Patients would recognize their negative thoughts and learn to change them from negative to positive. When they did this it would lessen their depression. This technique has many uses. For instance, it can be used to help with test anxiety, memory problems and with parents having negative thoughts about disabled offspring.

 

Last Fall a friend from my teen years passed away. She had had children later in life and left behind young daughters. She was a little more mature, relatively anyway for an LDS woman, as well. Before meeting the man that would become her husband, she had dated a man that the whole family loved. He was an engineer and altogether great guy, but she just didn’t think he was the guy for her. The man she ended up marrying was a more difficult personality. He wasn’t a bad person, but he came with some issues that made him harder to embrace, but for her it was the match she had been looking for. They struggled financially. They weren’t destitute, but she often worked and did not enjoy many of the things society thinks is important. Her sister-in-law spoke at her funeral and commented that God cares about the big stuff – do you keep his commandments and your covenants? Do you marry in the right place and then work to keep that marriage intact in the face of internal and external struggle? Do you have children if you are physically capable of it?  Beyond that, it is all little stuff. It doesn’t feel like little stuff – illness, poverty, death – but in the big (eternal) scheme of things, it is. Because when we die and get to the other side, all those little things are gone, but the things that are big – commandments, covenants, marriage and family – that’s all that’s left. Did she ever have to reframe her life? If she was anything like the rest of us mortals, she likely did.

Emily Perl Kingsley wrote a story about planning a vacation to Italy. For her it is an allegory about having a disabled child, but I think it can be an allegory for any “reframing” event:

“You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.”

I have been lucky. The times when I have had to reframe my life have been small. They were disappointments felt big at the time, but in light of the major realignments many people have to make, I recognize now how puny they were. Really.

Reframing your life sounds simple enough, but the name belies the difficulty of the task. It is hard to give up visions of how your life was supposed to be. You have to trust that what it will be can more than compensate for your disappointment.

Surrender to what is.

Let go of what was.

Have faith in what will be.

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