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July 29, 2013

Lisa Madras: I don’t like you, pain, but you complete me

NEW CASTLE — Is this contributing to my completeness?

I read this question somewhere a few years ago, and I can't help but marvel at what an astoundingly deep question it is. In fact, I think that if you asked yourself no other questions over the course of your life, this one would be enough.

Too often in the past I would find myself asking, "Is this making me happy?" and coming up with more negative responses than positive. Does it make me happy to have to do dishes and laundry and work eight hours a day instead of being with my kids? No. Does it make me happy when someone betrays my trust, bullies me, or hurts my feelings? Heck no.

But do all of these things contribute to my completeness?  

They sure do.

It seems that somewhere along the line (perhaps around the time of the drafting of the Declaration of Independence) we all went a little wack jack over the pursuit of happiness. And that’s not a bad thing — but is it a realistic goal? Life is always going to have its ups and downs, and I hate to tell you this, but if you're going to keep a score sheet, I can tell you right now that life is going wax the floor with your butt AND your copy of "The Art of Happiness."

One of my favorite quotes, which I happen to have hanging right above my desk at work, goes like this: "God gives his hardest battles to his strongest soldiers."  

Luckily for me, I'm just far enough ahead of the pain I've suffered to appreciate this quote for all it means. At the time of suffering, I would never have considered myself happy. In fact, I was just the opposite. I was miserable. I was wounded. At times I was almost completely broken.

I would wake up most mornings with my last bit of will hanging on with a mere thread, feeling that should one more little thing go wrong, I would shatter.  

Happiness, at that point in my life, meant very little to me. It was strength that I held on to, even though at times I couldn't see it or feel it. It was knowing that one of two things would happen: either I would crack, in which case nothing would matter anymore anyhow; or I would survive, and go on.

And not to be simplistic, but what are the odds of someone actually cracking? So even at my darkest moments, I knew I would get through. I wasn't happy. Not by a long shot. But when all was said and done, those times contributed to my completeness.

Grieving the loss of a loved one doesn't make us happy. But it does mean that we loved them. Doing household chores doesn't make up happy.  But it means that we have a home for ourselves and our loved ones. Working at our jobs doesn't make us happy (unless you're one of the lucky ones). But it means that we're self-sufficient and productive. And all of these things contribute our completeness.

Life, unlike what we've all been taught these many years, really doesn't have a whole lot to do with happiness. Happiness is great when it comes along! Laughing with friends, seeing the accomplishments of your children, getting that Prada handbag at the Goodwill store — all of these things are marvelous and should be clutched at and savored like a sweet piece of cherry candy! But these things are only a part of your life and a part of you. The joy and the pain and the laughter and the tears ... these are what make you completely who you are.

And so I no longer wish happiness for my loved ones and friends. Happiness is a shiny penny, all too soon lost among the cushions of the couch.

I wish you all of the good and all of the bad. I wish you completeness.

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