Joni Mitchell said it best when she sang the words, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” It’s so true. We walk around in this life taking so much for granted most of the time, like people, places, situations, our health. I often think that I have never known better health than I know right now, but that’s not true. My best physical health was probably sometime back when I was in my 20’s and hiking daily through the red rock canyons of Utah looking for desert tortoises, or when I was running up and down forested ravines chasing Mexican Spotted Owls in New Mexico, or when I was hiking 17 miles into the back country of Kings Canyon National Park in a day just to get where I was living and working for part of the summer at 10,500 feet elevation. But, I’ve never had such good health as I have now AND appreciated it as much as I do now. THAT’S the key difference. I no longer take my health for granted.
In 2009, just 6 months after welcoming my son into the world, I lost my health. I almost died. At the time, I had no idea what this meant for me or my life. It felt abrupt and unfair. After all, I had been one to eat healthy, even as a vegetarian for about 8 years, and I exercised extensively for my work as a wildlife and fisheries field biologist. I felt that I didn’t “deserve” this change in circumstances. (Stay tuned for a future post where I go into more detail about my health journey.)
It is the total loss of my health that has brought me to the level of gratitude that I live with in my present day life. And it is this level of gratitude that breathes joy and peace into my entire being. I have almost died and so my perspective on life has been forever altered. It’s amazing how small other obstacles in life become when the comparison is near-death. Try it and see what sounds like the worst-case in each of the following scenarios. I had a stressful day at work – I almost died. I got a divorce – I almost died. I got side swiped by another car – I almost died. My son says he hates me – I almost died. Someone at work doesn’t like me – I almost died. Friends left my life – I almost died. I live in California away from my family – I almost died. Life can always be worse, my friends. Mine has been, and for that I am eternally grateful. In fact, I am especially grateful that I lost my health.
You see, as humans, we tend to only learn, I mean REALLY learn and internalize the big lessons, when life kicks the shit out of us. Generally, we don’t learn as much by watching others on their journeys, and we don’t learn by being happily guided through a life of little or no strife. Our strife isn’t the Universe’s way of punishing us, but rather its way of growing us. We get what we need, not what we want. But, it is always our choice whether to grow and learn from our experiences, or to see them as some kind of negative force, curse, or punishment in our lives. After living many years in the latter state of mind, I have chosen to move forward with the clarity that I am always being taken care of by the Universe and that everything really does happen for a reason. In making that mental shift, in changing my thoughts about myself and my life towards the positive, I have completely transformed my life for the better. I was tired of suffering, so I chose to start accepting what is. It’s a constant choice I have to make though. There are days when I trust how my life is unfolding more than others. My trust is a work in progress. I am a work in progress.
At this point in my life, I am so thankful to be able to look back on my life as sort of a movie playing out. I can see the various turns that my life took and the lessons I gleaned from my greatest challenges. I am aware of how past challenges have shaped me into a person who can handle today’s challenges. It’s all about perspective.
As a child within my sometimes dysfunctional family, I grew to be a strong and independent woman. With a name spelled like Jammie (pronounced like Jamie), I learned to be assertive and feisty. With each loss of a friend or family member, I’ve learned not to take the people in my life for granted, nor my time in this life for granted. With the loss of my health, I learned to enjoy every breath that does not bring chest pain, and to enjoy the ability of my body to be on my feet for 12+ hours at work, and to still have enough energy to hike, swim, and play with my son on my days off! Through a difficult marriage, I learned that I was only getting the love that I was willing to give to myself, which at the time was not much. More importantly, from my marriage, I gained my son, who I believe is meant to be my biggest teacher in this life. Through a difficult divorce, I learned that I alone am the one who holds the power over me and my life, and that I am infinitely strong and capable of rebuilding my life from the ground up all by myself. My time working as a Registered Nurse on an adult oncology unit taught me that death is a natural part of life and that it is not something to be feared. Through a breast lump scare last year, I learned to not waste time worrying about the what-ifs and to instead just trust that life is unfolding for me in the exact way that it’s supposed to. I have been shown time and time again that I am stronger than any obstacle I may face. And as my sister, Amy, likes to remind me, so far, I have survived 100% of my worst days. Soak that in. YOU have survived 100% of your worst days! What has happened in your life to give you a greater perspective of the big picture? What positives have come from your challenges? How have your challenges shaped you as a person?
The perspective that my drastic change in health gave me is one where the present is all that I have for sure. The past no longer exists, and the future is not guaranteed. It can be difficult to really believe that the present is all we have, after all, most of us live in the past fretting over what went wrong and regrets that we have, or in the future where we dream of a time that is better than now. The beauty is that now is it. All we have to do is be present today, be happy today, do things that bring us joy TODAY. Not next year, not once we retire, but NOW. How would you live your life if all you had was today? What would you change? Do you have enough joy in your life? Do you make time for the things that you love to do? Do you make time to be with the people you love? What are you waiting for?
Life is short. We owe it to ourselves to stop taking so much for granted. May we all recognize and appreciate the wonderful things we have while we have them, and not just when they are gone.