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2020's Biggest Lessons

Updated: Aug 13, 2020

Right now, as I write this, I’m sitting inside my new home. It’s small but spacious, populated primarily by my family of plants, the scent of fresh-brewed coffee, and accent colors of turquoise and lemon zest. The sun is a cracked-egg yellow, spilling over a horizon marked by treetops — and I am happy.

The one thing that doesn’t fit?

The fact that my childhood home, a place I’ve practically worshipped for most of my life, was lost to a fire three weeks and three days ago.

The memory is still fresh: the night sky, winking with the ghosts of stars, marred by columns of smoke. My bare feet against ice-cloaked concrete. The world tilting on its axis as the Fire Chief shouted over the shriek of sirens, “You’re lucky this happened now. Three hours later, and you would’ve been asleep. Three hours later, and you would’ve died.”

For days later, as I fell through a spiraling free-fall, I couldn’t light a candle. I couldn’t see the orange haze of a streetlamp. I couldn’t go to sleep without fitfully wondering, “What if I don’t wake up?”

In theory, I’ve always known “tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.” That’s a thing we hear frequently, right? The idea of such a finite existence, as delicate as butterfly wings flapping through a hazard of jagged edges and poisonous enemies and fast-falling rain. It’s obvious. It’s common sense. But it’s also a story, and it doesn’t feel like real life until it is real life, and when that happens?

It’s not theory anymore. It’s practice.

Now I’m here, sipping a mug of fresh-brewed coffee and enveloped by a totally different life: a new, enchanting existence that was brought to life by the ashes of something lost. And I’ve finally realized that the lesson this teaches isn’t that life is fragile, but rather that life is hardy.

If you’re alive, you’re also resilient.

The last five years of my life have been marked by loss: In 2015, I asked for a divorce. In 2016, I was so depressed and lost in the dregs of a forgotten identity, I’ve all but blacked-out the whole year. In 2017, my eating disorder returned with a vengeance as I struggled with my tangled-up, toxic understanding of love. In 2018, I fought my way through recovery, extensive therapy, and falling in love again. In 2019, I left every pillar of support behind in favor of a risky adventure that left me feeling full but walking away empty-handed and totally broke.

And then, of course, 2020 arrived. I told myself I’d paid my dues. This would be MY YEAR and finally, finally, everything would be okay. I would be happy. I would finally publish When Stars Burn Out’s sequel. I would be at peace with myself, recover from all I’d lost —

Only to lose more.

Only to lose the most I’ve ever lost: My home.

But that’s the thing about life: There is no such thing as loss. We’re just more aware of it because at some point along the span of our lives, we’ve been trained to be. With every big tragedy, there’s a lesson, and it sits like the fat pearl inside the jaws of an oyster. These lessons can’t be purchased or taught through a self-help book. These lessons are rare gifts we’re simply given, if we’re lucky.

That’s right. If we’re lucky, we’ll experience tragedy. If we’re lucky.

If it weren’t for loss, I wouldn’t realize what I already have — let alone be grateful for it. Through these lessons of loss and tragedy, I’ve truly realized that I’ve gained far more than I’ve ever lost in life, even if it doesn’t always feel that way to my self-centered egoic way of thinking.

We may not be able to control the fast-falling rain, but we can control our butterfly wings — how high or how low we soar? That’s completely up to us.

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