“Some of us have great stories, pretty stories that take place at lakes with boats and friends and noodle salad.”
— “As Good As It Gets”
“Life is hard sometimes, yea?” my friend wrote in a text last week.
“Very hard,” I wrote back.
We had been exchanging texts, trying to figure out if we might be able to get together next weekend. But unfortunately, kids’ activities, travel schedules, and other obligations are getting in the way.
I miss my friend. She misses me too. We are both disappointed. Life is hard sometimes.
This morning I woke to a leaking bathroom sink. The shower door came unhinged. One dog had peed all over Jackson’s piano book. The other dog (or maybe it was the same dog?) had gotten sick all over the living room, dining room, kitchen, and family room. Our morning was rushed with a frantic school drop-off and hurried good-byes. I have felt on the verge of tears most of the day. For what reason, I’m not exactly sure. Some days are hard.
Today was a hard day.
“Parenting is hard,” a friend texted me this afternoon. “I feel like I’ve stepped off a parenting cliff with no plan and no idea what to do next.”
“I feel like that most days,” I texted back.
Sometimes the questions and doubts are relentless. Are they getting enough sleep? Are we reading together enough? How old is too old for a blankie and thumb-sucking? Should I let my son play football? Should they be in more extracurricular activities? Or less? With each new phase, each new question, I feel like I’m stepping off a cliff. Most days I’m pretty sure I’m falling short in one way or another. Parenting is hard sometimes.
Parenting is hard. Friendship is hard. Relationships are hard. Work is hard. Life is hard.
Sometimes it’s all hard.
I understand that by simply making this statement – by saying out loud (or in writing, as the case may be) that life is hard – I am stepping into muddy waters. It is not a popular thing to say. We want things to be good and fine and okay. It’s easier to talk about hard in the past tense. We talk about the struggle after we’ve crawled our way out of the darkness. Things were hard; now everything’s fine.
This tendency to talk about the struggle from the “after” perspective is a common frustration of mine, especially when it comes to writing creative nonfiction. We write about the struggle after we’ve overcome. We talk about the crosses we bear after we’ve put them down. We sing out praises of “Hallelujah!” because we were lost but now – thank God now – we’re found.
But what about when we’re in the midst of the struggle? What about when we’re buckling under the weight of our cross, when we’re still lost, when we’re stepping off a cliff into uncharted terrain? What about the days when we’re fumbling around in the dark? What about when it all feels so damn hard? What then? Where are the “me too” stories then?
Because what I have found is that when things are hard, when I’m stuck in a downward spiral of doubt and fear and anger, when I’m stepping off the cliff or crawling around in the dark, I have a tendency to tell myself the biggest lie of all: It’s just you. You are all alone. No one else could possibly understand.
As I’ve said before, some of the most meaningful things in life are hard. Some of the most beautiful things in life – parenting, marriage, friendship – have a less pretty side and carry a certain grittiness to them. It does no one any good to pretend that they don’t. We don’t diminish their meaning or beauty by talking about the hard and gritty and less pretty parts. And we don’t make life any less beautiful by saying out loud that sometimes it’s all so hard.
Every day I am acutely aware of how rich and beautiful life is, even on the crappy days. I thank God every day for my children, even when parenting feels like a minefield. And I am deeply grateful for my husband and my family and my friends even though we are sometimes thwarted by everyday obligations and the busyness of our lives, even though the ways we express our love and respect sometimes gets lost in translation.
The simple truth is that sometimes things are hard. Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes everything feels hard.
And sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s pretty stories and sunny days with lakes and boats. Sometimes it’s good times and noodle salad.
Most of the time it’s both. Most things worth anything are hard and good.
Maybe the trick is figuring out a way to create good times even when we feel like we’re stepping off a cliff, to make our own noodle salad even when it feels like we’re stirring a big wooden spoon in the dark.
Maybe the key is to get on the swinging carousel even though it’s cold and rainy because it feels so freaking good to let our feel dangle and let the wind whip in our hair. Because even when it’s cold and rainy, the view is so damn good.