By Jason Menard
The old adage states that it’s always darkest before the dawn, but when life has the feel of a recurring nightmare, is it any wonder that one can wonder when the sun will shine again.
In relative terms, my wife and I have a pretty good life. And, in the good Ontario Calvinist fashion to which we’ve been exposed, we can put up a good front on the outside, refusing to share our troubles and, in doing so, keeping others at bay.
However, internally, enough is enough. It’s hard to maintain a positive attitude throughout overwhelming negativity. Can one really be expected to keep turning the other cheek when no matter which way you look you get slapped? In this life, you can never expect a hand up or a hand out from anyone – but at least you can hope that the hands will be off your throat once in a while.
Recently my wife was in another car accident. Again, another accident that was not her fault, was unavoidable, but leaves lasting damage. But more than the physical aches and pains, it’s the emotional damage that is more devastating. It’s the weight of yet another negative experience that threatens to crush our will.
Until you’ve experienced a serious car accident, you can never understand the full ramifications of an event of this nature until you’ve experienced it first-hand. It’s not the impact that hurts the most – it’s the aftershocks, and they can reverberate much longer. That’s what we’ve found from our own experience, starting two years ago and continuing to this day.
Over two years ago we were in a severe head-on collision. Ironically, while the accident totalled our car, it set the wheels in motion for a continual test of faith, attitude, and commitment. As a result of the accident, both my wife and I have suffered continual pain. Despite treatment, medication, and therapy, my wife’s arm is still in severe pain and only seems to be getting worse. My shoulder is still damaged and I have my good days and bad days.
This initial accident has changed our lives immeasurably, in almost every aspect of our existence. From social to financial to emotional, a split-second impact has had lasting repercussions. It’s a physical embodiment of the old adage states that dropping a small pebble in the ocean will eventually cause a ripple effect that will carry waves across the world.
The initial accident has given us years of a unique perspective on the world, allowing it to unfold before us and display its true colours. It has allowed us a new perspective on friends and family – the former, in many cases, we had overestimated, and the latter we had previously grossly underappreciated. And it has exposed us to the best and worst of human nature. From expressed and unexpressed doubts and looks of bewilderment, to offers of support and callous dismissals, to hearty displays of support and gentle commiseration, we have seen the best and worst of life.
Yet, throughout all of these trials, the one fact that has stood out above all the rest is that at the end of the day, we have each other.
No matter how well prepared you are to deal with the after-effects of guilt, what you can’t prepare for are the lasting effects of guilt. No one can understand the eroding force that guilt can have on your life – slowly and steadily wearing away your resolve – until you’ve had reason to experience it first-hand. For example, my wife continues to feel guilty for being a burden – her words – on me as she’s unable to participate in the household chores, work and bring in income, or be the wife she wants to be. Yet her guilt persists despite the fact that I appreciate what she is able to bring to me. My doing a few extra dishes, assuming the housekeeping chores, and cooking the family meals are small prices to pay for the joys that she brings by being in my life.
Of course, it’s also a small price to pay on the guilt that I feel. Although I’ve been told ad nauseum by officers, doctors, and my wife that the initial accident was not my fault, it’s hard to not feel some culpability when the woman you love is continually in pain for an accident in which I was behind the wheel. I know I am innocent of any culpability, but yet one still can play the old what if game. Guilt doesn’t have to be rational. I know the full weight of that initial accident lies on the shoulders of the other driver but, as a husband who loves his wife, I can’t help but want to do everything in my power to make her life easier, more comfortable, and more enjoyable so that she can eventually get better. Those vows say for better or for worse, in sickness and in health – they’re not empty words.
Since that initial accident, our lives have been beset with a number of challenges. Guilt gets in the way of moving on simply because you want to help the other so much. Pain has restricted our lives; it has prevented us from doing what we need to live our dreams. The accident has added a variety of stressors to our lives, whether they are legal, financial, or emotional.
Yet, in the end, through all the darkness there has been some light. As we’ve been forced to turn inwards and turn to each other for support, we’ve developed a greater appreciation for what we have. We are blessed with two children, a roof over our head, and food on the table. And we are blessed to know that, no matter what, we’re in this together and supportive of each other unconditionally. Any of our previous skirmishes and arguments now seem petty. We have grown up immeasurably and are looking forward to a brighter future together.
Yet, still it’s hard not to feel that we’re being punished for something – as if these continuing trials are some sort of Karmic retribution for past transgressions. Is this some sort of punishment for the sins of our past? Are we not to be judged on the person we are now? In my youth, I was much more cynical, much more callous, and much more flippant. I was egocentric and certainly not as sensitive to others’ feelings and needs. But I was also young and was learning my way through life — protecting myself and my development from others by putting up a façade.
Since the birth of my children I have mellowed. I’m not so angry at what I perceive are the world’s wrongs. I am more understanding and more compassionate towards others. I have learned what it means to live and to love. Mistakes were made, but they’ve been acknowledged and learned from. So when do we get to move on?
Life doesn’t always go as planned. And, obviously, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But no matter what cliché you use, the fact is that it’s hard to be a good person when you see others who don’t treat life with the same respect succeeding. My wife and I truly try to be good people, positive roll models for our children, and – in good Cub Scout fashion – leave the world a better place than what we found it. But it’s so hard to be positive when negativity seems to hang over you like a cloud.
So now we come to another accident: another jarring impact that stops life for a time. But where will those ripples lead us? We will spend our time fighting the current and trying to keep our head above water, or is it now time for us to coast on the waves to a better, more positive, experience?
Either way, no matter where life takes us, we’re going to continue to be positive, going to continue to look for the good in life, and continue to appreciate the fact that no matter what happens we have each other to support. Life owes us nothing more and has already given us so much by allowing us to find each other.
And if that realization is the first rays of sun filtering through the darkness, then I say it’s time to bring on the morning – we’re ready to tackle the day and make the best out of life!
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