If I made an objective list of things that have occurred in my life since adulthood, I don’t think that most people would say that, as an adult, I have been lucky.
As a child, yes, people would say I was rather fortunate.
But as an adult?
Have I had really different experiences? Yes.
Have some of them been really cool? Definitely.
But, by and large, they have been really tough. Tough in the way few people would volunteer for, and even fewer would endure. Earned in every imaginable way — and, if I were fair, I’m not sure I can say that the payoff was equal to the amount of pain.
(Here I am mostly talking about my West Point and military days. It is not, actually, a “smart” idea to go to West Point. It requires extraordinary dedication and a willingness to suffer, suffer, suffer for an ideal or belief for the future that you refuse to let go of, for years, while your friends mostly just play at adulting in their collegiate nests. If your goal is to give yourself a comfortable, “happy” life, avoid West Point.)
Once, during my senior year at USMA, I was in New York in my cadet uniform for an official function. A well-dressed New York socialite approached me, and brazenly attacked me for having been given a privileged, “free” education, while so many poor people can’t afford college.
I raised an eyebrow and replied, “Ma’am, people ‘pay’ for things in many ways. I assure you: there has been nothing ‘free’ about it, nor will there be, over the next five years.”
Her mouth fluttered open a few times and she walked away.
When I think about the incident, I find it even more absurd since it happened post-911. We were the first graduating class that would be sent to units going directly into war in many, many years. What a stupid woman.
Even so, I can’t complain. I am proud to have actually experienced what most people just sit around fireplaces and speculate on, getting drunk and opinionated about, without having any real, first-hand, experiential, or “root” to their knowledge.
I don’t have much patience for such types.
Truth is, even though those nine years took an extreme toll on my body and mind, I knew that I actually was privileged. Because I knew what I was capable of, and I had found my breaking point, and balanced on it, again and again, only to discover that I could continue on, and do more and more, and that I wasn’t, actually, broken.
Very few people have any idea of their true strength, or even what it means to be strong.
Flash forward five years, and I have a child born with a blood disorder so rare that it is the equivalent of winning a super lottery.
Except the prize is a little different. It is more like an un-lottery, a vacuum that sucks everything away, and makes everything much, much harder. It’s a cruel vacuum, one that sucks a (usually) completely unsuspecting, unknowing couple’s joy and plans into a void that they will have to fight, tooth and nail, to retrieve scraps out of.
But again, I can’t complain. Not really.
In Adahlia’s early years, I had a mom-friend who, while pregnant with her second baby, looked at me while we stood in her kitchen, and it suddenly dawned on her. How much I had given my child to try to help her, not just physically but also emotionally and mentally, to wash away all the trauma of her hospitalizations and needle-sticks.
“Oh my gosh,” she said, “I just realized that you have never had the experience of putting her in a crib, coming downstairs and pouring yourself a glass of wine, and drinking it while listening to her cry it out.”
I’m not sure if it was my expression or her own conscience that corrected her.
“Not that that’s an experience, of course,” she quickly added.
“Oh, it’s an experience,” I affirmed. But no, not one that I would value, I mentally added.
You see, people value different things. People’s lives mean different things to them.
No, my life doesn’t mean suffering to me. I certainly don’t consciously want to suffer. I want the good things that most people want.
And no, I don’t think life is about suffering.
I do think that life meets you where you’re at.
And that your life experiences will challenge you to define your values.
No, there isn’t a sane woman alive who would trade her life and her child’s life for mine over the last five, six years (if you count the pregnancy, which was also harder than most.)
But I have absolutely zero regrets about how I’ve handled it.
I have priorities; I have values. I have these values because I have come face to face with them and made a conscience decision about what is important in my life.
And no, my priorities don’t include drinking a glass of wine while my child cries herself to sleep alone.
I am better than that. I have the tools and the ability to provide comfort, love, and a sense of security to a defenseless child when she is scared and doesn’t want to be alone at night.
I know who I am. I know what I stand for.
It isn’t flippant or cruel or selfish or stupid or vapid.
It prioritizes the people I love over both temporary pleasures and even over more respectable dedications, like a career or bank accounts.
It pivots around a love so deep and profound that it surrenders sacrifice after sacrifice after sacrifice.
I know what goodness I am truly capable of.
And yes, that makes me one of the lucky ones.