My son had a stroke a couple of months ago. He was 7 months old at the time. A tiny human being who knew nothing about pain or suffering suddenly being forced to face a terrifying situation even for an adult. From seizures to painful procedures. Spending days in the fear and sadness that fills a hospital ICU to be released with motor skill shortcomings. And having to face everyday these motor deficits that make reaching normal developmental milestones so much harder, therefore facing months of rehab ahead of him.
I could go on and on about how unjust this is or, to the contrary, how grateful we are that he’s healing. At the end of the day, there’s always better and worse in life, but when you get handed a card by the universe it really makes no sense to spend your energy wishing differently. So instead of venting all of the emotions that I’ve experienced as a result of this awful life challenge, I’d rather focus on what’s really worth reflecting on.
I believe everything we go through in life is a lesson. Lessons we many times miss because we just can’t let go of the “should have been(s)”. We are so focused on how things should play out that when our plans fail we just can’t grasp the blessing of a life lesson embedded in a detour. It’s easy for me to say, but every time I’m faced with a challenge I too forget that with time I’ll most certainly learn something from it. I guess it’s much easier to connect the dots in retrospective than looking forward when everything is so uncertain.
Well this time, I’m lucky I had a teacher that showed me one of the most valuable lessons I’ve ever learned. Now I get why so many parents say their children are the greatest teachers they’ve ever had. I couldn’t agree more. And this is exactly what my son turned into: my greatest enlightment.
See, let me tell you a little bit about Alec. He is always the baby with the biggest smile in the room. It doesn’t matter where we are or who we are with, he is always smiling. He’ll just come into a room full of strangers and suddenly light it up with his cheerful spirit. He’ll make even the most serious old man smile right back at him.
And at the hospital it was not any different. Of course he went through a difficult phase when he was in pain (he’s only human). But he bounced right back without a shred of resentment. Not only would he smile at the doctors and nurses but he would laugh his butt off like he was having the time of his life. And this is the same attitude that’s putting him through rehab. For him, every day in therapy is an opportunity to discover and learn new things.
I’ve wondered how different his recovery process would be if he had a different attitude. It’s true that the plasticity of his brain contributes tremendously to the possibility of his full recovery. But I’m not talking about human biology here. What I’m talking about is our mindset and psychological endurance to overcome adversity.
Babies (fortunately) don’t have the level of sophisticated self-awareness or consciousness that adults have. So they don’t go around asking themselves why something like this would ever happen to them. They don’t blame God. They don’t resent the universe. They don’t feel pity for themselves and give up the fight. They just power through and do whatever it takes to survive and to keep going without an ounce of hesitation.
And this is exactly where the lesson is. Having a positive attitude and mindset works wonders. It makes all the difference in the road of recovery (physical or emotional). It’s true that it’s not magic. And being positive in and of itself won’t cure our ailments. But it’ll sure as hell make a big difference in our potential for recovering and bouncing back from life’s most difficult hardships.
I’m perfectly aware though that just hearing “stay positive” (peace & love sign) may not do the trick. To the contrary, it can be pretty frustrating to try and be positive when all you can hear in your head are worst-case scenarios (if only we were babies!). Being the negative-prone person that I am, I know exactly how that feels. But I also know that despite how difficult it may be for some of us it is still possible to have a positive outlook when life puts us to the test.
Next time you’re faced with a challenging situation, just try to avoid overthinking it. Rumination is the most dangerous form of self-sabotage. Just shut down your mind for a bit. Focus on living through whatever you’re going through. Feel it. Acknowledge it. Accept it. Don’t second-guess it. Just take it all in. And have faith that it will somehow all work out. That despite the pain, the suffering, the fear, and everything else you may be feeling there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. And that this experience you thought you would never survive will only make you stronger. And wiser.
Then, just like my baby Alec, throw the biggest smile in the room. Not because you have something to smile about but just because you can. Not only will it light up your soul but also the soul of everyone else around you, making even the darkest moment brighter than you can imagine.