Life can change in a single moment. This is not just the stuff of movies and fairy tales. Your life really can change in an instant, for better or for worse.
I remember sitting at breakfast in New York City, at the Athletics Club overlooking Central Park, the day I made my first publishing deal. John F. Kennedy Jr. was sitting at the next table. I can still taste the fresh cut slices of pineapple. Later that morning I walked into a publishing meeting that changed my life forever. A few short years later, I watched the news that John F. Kennedy Jr.’s plane had gone down off Martha’s Vineyard. A single tragic accident had ended his life.
Some life-changing moments lift up our hearts and make us feel like we are on top of the world, but others are soul-crushing. I was experiencing the soul-crushing variety.
Life can change in the blink of an eye, but most of the significant changes in our lives build over time before compounding into something wonderful or devastating. Anyone who has loved an addict or narcissist knows this all too well. As does anyone who has worked their whole life to develop a talent only to be discovered in an unexpected place at an unexpected time.
I have had more than my fair share of everything good that life has to offer. But it’s the unexpected nature of the worst experiences of our lives that exacerbates the way they devastate us. Something happens and because of it everything changes. You will never be the same, your life will never be the same, your heart will never be the same, but life presses on with or without you, relentlessly pushing you toward the unknown future.
Three times before I was forty, I sat in a doctor office and was told I had cancer. The first time I was thirty-five. I remember leaving the doctor’s office in a daze, my life had just changed in an instant. I was face to face with my mortality for the first time. I sat in my car for about twenty minutes before I even started it, and I have vivid memories of the whole world swirling around me. What seemed important an hour ago no longer mattered. People rushing here and there, going about their lives, oblivious to the fact that the whole direction of my life had just shifted. It’s a lonely feeling. The second time I was thirty-eight and the third time was the following year. The third encounter led to the removal of a large portion of my right kidney.
But nobody gave me cancer. It just happened. It was just part of life. There was nobody to blame, no one to harbor anger and resentment toward. That makes it easier.
It’s when a person intentionally hurts you, changes your life in an instant, that you face the darkest parts of yourself. It’s when a group of people decide to harm you, collectively or one at a time, that your faith in humanity is tested.
From Life is Messy
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