Friday, February 3, 2012

Into the woods

Tomorrow is one-year since my neck surgery. I have always been good at remembering dates - people's birthdays, anniversaries and such. In my own life, however, this also means I am good at remembering other dates - my MS diagnosis, my cancer diagnosis, melanoma surgery, neck surgery. I can't help but have the dates engraved in my mind. I do breathe easier with each "anniversary" as the memories of the pain, both physical and emotional, begin to fade.

I like to hope that years from now I look back on this period in my late 20s-early 30s and say that it was the worst, or at least one of the worst times of my life; however, I am not so naive to believe that all these years have bought me a free pass for the next 20. Life has been shoving that lesson down my throat for a while now.

I get it, Life. You're not fair.
You don't pass around the grief, pain and loss equally.
Some of us bear more than our share and others get off with no more than a few scratches. You're not a bowl full of cherries. I get it.

My sister-in-law gave me a book for Christmas, Stephen Sondheim's "Hat Box" which includes all the lyrics to everything he's ever written. Sondheim's Into the Woods is one of my all-time favorite musicals. It weaves together different fairy tales along with stories about relationships and of people's journey through the "woods," and clearly Sondheim is talking about more than just those clusters of trees behind your house:

You go into the woods, where nothing’s clear, where witches, ghosts and wolves appear.
Into the woods and through the fear, you have to take the journey...
Into the woods you go again, you have to every now and then.
Into the woods, no telling when. Be ready for the journey.

The way is dark, the light is dim...
The chances look small, the choices look grim.
But everything you learn there will help when you return there.

Into the woods you have to grope, but that’s the way you learn to cope.
Into the woods to find there’s hope of getting through the journey.

God, he's really a genius. Isn't he saying that we all go through the woods at various points in our lives? Everyone's woods are different and some people spend (a hell of a lot) more time there than others. Life forces us, often time and time again, to push through the horrors and the awful realities. But in doing that, we are learning how to fight. We pick up our machetes and slice our way through the forests or we climb a tree for a bird's eye view to find our way out.

Going into the woods forces us to get creative, to take a hard look at ourselves and ask what is it that keeps us going? What is it that makes people want to fight their way through the forest while others are too afraid to move and stay stuck there for years, maybe forever? Is it fear that motivates me? Is it anger? Is it hope? Each time we get thrown deep into the woods and find ourselves alone in a dark, scary place - what matters is that we keep fighting and remind ourselves that with every horror Life throws at us, hopefully there will be some wonders, too. And if Mr. Sondheim is correct that "everything you learn there will help when you return there," then maybe that means we get out of the woods a little faster the next time.

I wish I had the answers. I wish I knew why so many of us keep getting thrown back into the woods and tossed to the wolves. I wish I knew why other people are lucky enough to spend hardly any time there at all. I wish I could go to the festival (only true Sondheim nerds will get that one!)

At any rate, talking about life's challenges is less frightening with a nice musical theater metaphor, isn't it?

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