“now i’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.
~ gilda radner
i’ve been a gilda fan since my buddy robyn and i discovered saturday night live during middle school. i remember that she died the night of my first prom.
i didn’t know this quote back then, and if i’d seen it in those days it wouldn’t have spoken to me. i was in high school – what did i know about ambiguity?
as it turns out, it came across my facebook news feed about 6 months ago. one of my friends (thank you, whoever you were!) posted it as his/her status. i remember reading it and thinking that it was such a lovely way of describing my mindset post-stroke. then i saw that it was gilda, and wasn’t surprised that she would get it. and would be helping me out from beyond the grave.
in true former-english-major fashion, i’ll take a look at this quote bit by bit.
“now i’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme,”
my poem doesn’t rhyme, and that’s fine by me. the only word that comes to mind that rhymes with tumor is rumor, and that doesn’t really fit with my life at all. and i certainly will claim my membership in the “the hard way” club.
“and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end.”
for a while there, it certainly looked like the tumor would be the end of my story. but is it the middle? is it the beginning? i don’t know. it’s not up to me. i’m just gonna keep putting one foot in front of the other. i don’t know where i’ll end up, but i’ve learned from all of this that it doesn’t make much of a difference. i’m just so damn happy that after a lot of work and help, i can even do that with my feet again. so i enjoy the feeling of walking. and with all of that work and help, and a nifty pair of prism lenses, i can look around and enjoy where i’m walking. and this time next week i’ll even be able to tell which direction the cars are coming from – i’m getting a hearing aid (hearing in both ears = hello, triangulation!).
“life is about not knowing,”
my life is fuller now that i don’t know. the less energy i put into trying to predict/change the future, the more energy i have for the present. and the present is where it’s at. i’m willing to be spontaneous, willing to take risks of many different kinds. these are some pretty major changes, and i had to make them if i was going to make it. i, and my friends/family, have just emerged from 2 years of not knowing – would i live or die? ever be able to walk again? recover from my brain injury? – and those are some pretty major unknowns. but today i have things to look forward to and yesterday was great. that’s how much i know about life. i also know that i’ve strung together about 2 years worth of that. the definition of great has changed over those years, thank goodness. most of what counted as great in the nursing home wouldn’t count as great today. but nursing-home great was great just the same, and today’s great wouldn’t be here without it.
“having to change,”
my first reaction to this part was that i disagreed with gilda. i thought that “being willing to change” was more accurate. but now i see her point, and i agree. from time to time i think about why trauma takes some people and why other people beat it. and i think that gilda nailed it in these three words. when your life changes, you have to change. you won’t survive trying to live your old life when that life no longer exists. it seems to me that the folks who continue on are the folks who can acknowledge that their life has changed and will live that changed life. the people who keep trying to live their pre-trauma life don’t survive – either they physically don’t make it or they become bitter and angry about the fact that they can’t live the life they were living before, and the trauma wins. i think that this is true in the short term – two examples that come to mind are gilda and warren zevon. they both knew that they were dying but they continued to live until that death came. my situation is obviously different than being diagnosed with a terminal illness. but the three of us could have certainly taken our news and let it kill us before we were actually dead. now i absolutely have spent time mourning the death of the life i had before my medical drama, and i’m sure that warren and gilda did too. but we continued to live in those new lives – and like them i will continue living until whenever it is that my body stops living. so i think that gilda was right – when your life changes you have to change right along with it or your trauma wins.
“taking the moment and making the best of it,”
now i can see that ultimately, this is all that we can do, trauma or not. we have some say in the moments that happen in our lives – we can do our best to surround ourselves with good folks and go to interesting places, but once we’re there we don’t have much control at all about what happens. there are too many variables. we can take the moments as they happen, and then choose our attitude about those moments. i have mentioned that pre-trauma i was convinced that choosing your attitude was b.s., but now it’s my religion. i think that fundamentally i did not believe that i didn’t have control over what happened to me. funny how a phone call from an ENT can change that.
in this moment that i’m writing this, i’m realizing that with this quote gilda is telling me the secret to surviving trauma. whoa.
“without knowing what’s going to happen next.”
i know that i have set in motion the potential for a great day today. i’ll head out into it and see what happens. and if i remember that great things can be big and small, i feel pretty confident that at the end of today i’ll look back on my day and see great things. choosing my attitude. i have a general outline of what my day will look like, but i don’t know what will happen. i don’t control that – too many variables. but i can control my attitude.
choosing your attitude. why else would she use the word delicious to describe ambiguity? frightening ambiguity. annoying ambiguity. alarming ambiguity. why delicious? because it’s an attitude choice. and the key to survival. we have so little control over the things that happen to us, but we can control how we process those things. in describing ambiguity as delicious i can hear gilda saying “ok ovarian cancer, you haven’t killed me yet.” in the shawshank redeption, andy says, “i guess it comes down to a simple choice, really; get busy living or get busy dying.” andy’s trauma was wrongful imprisonment. mine was a stroke. cancer was warren and gilda’s trauma. but we all got busy living. and chose our attitudes about the ambiguity that choosing to live brings.