Saturday, July 10, 2010

Open Doors

"Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn't know you'd left open." John Barrymore

I use to insist, no matter what anyone told me, that happiness was a result of things going a certain way; not something I could control with my attitude. It seemed ridiculous to me that everything around me could be falling apart, and I could stand in the middle of it and smile.

Then, oddly enough, everything around me actually did fall apart. I had built my life, my whole identity, around my marriage. When it failed, I truly did not think I would ever recover. A lot of stuff happened to me during that time. I learned a lot of lessons. Lessons about me, and about life, and about what it truly means to be happy. I also learned what it truly means to be a friend - and to have good friends that you can count on. 

"Phoebe" (not her real name, but she'd love the 'Friends' reference) and I had known each other through work for a few years. Living and working about 300 miles apart, we'd really only ever communicated through email or by phone, and it was always work related. Then we friended each other on facebook, and started to get to know each other a little better through our profiles. We found we had some things in common. Soon we started chatting, and opened up to one another about stuff that was going on in our lives.

My failing marriage was tough for me, but it was nothing compared to Phoebe's life. She had recently gone through some problems with her boyfriend. He was struggling with some issues, and she was keeping them private, which was making things difficult at work. As if that wasn't bad enough, she was also dealing with a cancer diagnosis, and fighting that battle. 

Then, we went through a transition at work, which was a surprise and a little traumatic. Soon after that happened, Phoebe learned she had to have more surgery; then she had to move, and then move again within a few months. There were a couple of car accidents...then she went through a breakup and was laid off from our new company. Now, there's a new cancer diagnosis, a broken wrist and a another new job to contend with. (There's more; those are the highlights.)

Yet every day - without fail - she texts me and says, "How are you today?" And means it. Waits to hear what I have to say. And if I want to complain because my day at work involved too much paperwork, or I'm worried about a guy or my hair, or my arthritis is acting up, she listens. And she cares. 

Phoebe tells me what's going on in her life. She'll ask me for advice if her problem is something I've gone through, and she thinks I can help. And if she wants to vent, she does. But through all of the 'stuff' she's had to deal with -  which by my count is way more than anyone's fair share - she has never, ever taken her frustration out on me. 

I have had friends yell and scream at me because they lost their purse, or they don't like their coworker, or their phone isn't working right. But never Phoebe. She tells me, in a matter-of-fact kind of way, "This happened then that happened and as a result next week, I have to..." all the while laughing and smiling, and making jokes - and asking how I am at the same time.

Things go wrong in everyone's life. We lose our wallets; our cars breakdown; we hate our jobs some days. Computers crash, phones fall in the water, or a pet throws-up on the carpet. It happens. I used to be that girl who freaked out over the smallest stuff, thinking, "Why can't anything ever go right for me?" Then, in the blink of an eye, I learned what it really means to struggle, and come out on the other side. 

The truth is, struggle is different for everyone. What's tough for me might be easy for someone else. Life works that way - it gives you what and who you need to grow, to learn and to become the you that you were meant to be. 

Real strength doesn't come from avoiding conflict, or doing everything according to plan. We don't find strength by being better than everyone else. Happiness doesn't come when everything is going your way. Happiness happens when life isn't going your way....and you can smile anyway. 

If you don't believe me, just ask my friend Phoebe.

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