This talk really affected me. I empathized with her story, agreeing that pain and suffering often can have positive results. I expected most people to be inspired by this, and I immediately thought about posting it on my blog. Then I started to scroll down to the comments and was a little surprised. While most people commented that her words should be celebrated, some people were arguing that seeing her cancer as a “gift” was a delusion, that nothing positive can ever come out of a painful experience, in fact that “No one has ever shown that you can learn something positive from pain and suffering and humiliation” Obviously this is a clearly unsupported and overly generalized statement but it almost angered me.
I tried to see from their point of view. Maybe these people had never experienced something difficult, maybe they have never seen their life threatened, maybe they have never dealt with something beyond their control, and maybe they didn’t know what it meant to have a positive attitude when things are hard. I realize that if you don’t understand something, it’s often hard to see how someone could POSSIBLY deal with it. How could something so beautiful come out of something so horrible? It’s true, not everyone sees their hardships as blessings or as gifts, some things are so horrible, so life-altering, so painful, that it’s often hard to see the good side of things. But to say that NO ONE has ever learned something positive from a hardship cannot possibly be true. In the end, if you survive it, there is usually something (no matter how small) to be thankful for, there’s usually something you have learned. If you think that there isn’t, only then are you deluding yourself. Some true life lessons are often learned the hard way. Harsh… but it is a reality you must come to accept.
Then I began to think about what people thought about me, about my positive attitude, about appreciating the lessons I’ve learned from something difficult. I hope that people don’t think I am deluding myself, or even offering delusions for others. I want to make clear the difference between having a positive attitude/looking on the bright side /being thankful for the lessons, and seeing everything as happy. There is a difference. Never have I said “Cystic fibrosis is a good thing” If it was, we wouldn’t be working so hard to fight it, to cure it, to make it easier for people to deal with. I have never said “Oh your child has cystic fibrosis?! CONGRATULATIONS!” Having to deal with cystic fibrosis doesn’t make me smile. I think CF sucks, no one should have to deal with it, and sometimes even I get sick of it. I have had my fair share of crying and mourning and being afraid. Cystic fibrosis is not by any stretch of the imagination, a good thing… neither is cancer, or murder, or injustice, or death, or abandonment, or bankruptcy, or homelessness. And this is a harsh reality in dealing with the horrible, life-altering, unfair events that some people have the unfortunate luck to have to deal with.
Now, the main hardship I have gone through is having a life-threatening, chronic, progressive disease. I cannot speak for those who go through other hardships, because I know that I can’t possibly understand it when I haven’t gone through it. What I have learned though, is that just because something sucks, doesn’t mean you can’t have some positive outlook about it. Just because it difficult or painful, doesn’t mean you can just stop fighting or stop smiling. I haven’t even technically “survived” CF, I’m still in there fighting, still afraid that it will get worse. But so far, through all the troubles it has caused and has yet to cause, it HAS given me a deeper appreciation and zest for life. If I let CF get the best of me, I wouldn’t be able to truly say I am still happy, in fact, I probably wouldn’t be alive because I would have given up a long time ago.
Stacey said, “I wouldn’t wish this gift for you. I’m not sure you’d want it. But I wouldn’t change my experience. It profoundly altered my life in ways I didn’t expect…” People don’t hope and pray that they will get cancer or lose someone they love just so they could learn a lesson or embrace it as some sort of gift. And when those things happen, people almost never see it as a good thing at the time. But in the end, pain and suffering can teach you lessons, it can teach you to appreciate life, and it can inspire others to be strong. No one says that pity and grief and why-is-this-happening-to-me are all the sole requirements set in stone when going through difficult circumstances. Yes, you can still accept the difficulty… its SUPPOSED to hurt, you’re ALLOWED to hate it, but at the same time, it is still possible to be positive, and it is still possible to have learned something from it. I know I have, and I know many people who have overcome immense hardships, who have hit rock bottom, and who have still come out smiling. You don’t have to accept pain and struggle as the only outcome of your difficult situation, it is possible for something positive to come out of it too.