DEER IN HEADLINES
By Gery L. Deer
Some people believe one is destined to become whatever is predetermined by their god, with all of life’s events planned in advance by some divine manifest destiny. For others, that destiny is in a constant state of change, altered by the ebb and flow of cause and effect, guided not by the hand of a supreme being but by our own choices.
Generally, however, there are some events in life that we can pinpoint as our time of transformation; a crucible, if you will. Within it, parts of us are burned away leaving a changed, newly-formed person, sometimes for the better, sometimes not.
Divorce, extended health problems, the loss of a home, personal income or a job, can all bring about emotions and primal reactions for which we are rarely well prepared. Perhaps the most powerful events that permanently change us are related to the death of someone close such as a family member, mentor or good friend.
For many the death of a loved one can be a crucible, forcing to the surface thoughts and emotions perhaps long buried, or never before experienced. How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life, but we seldom take that concept to heart.
Even as a topic of conversation, death is to be avoided. Its unmistakable finality has so marked humanity that coping with the end of life has served as a catalyst for the formation of enduring religious beliefs, some of which comfort, others frighten.
What may be surprising is that a ‘crucible event’ does not necessarily have to be a negative or unhappy experience. The same kinds of life-changing occurrence can come from positive influences as well such as the birth of a child, a marriage or sudden financial windfall.
The events themselves, however, aren’t what change us; we do that on our own. Most people don’t realize they have the power, for the most part, to alter how they react to outside influence. Feelings are generated by thoughts, so if we control our thoughts, we can better manage our feelings and make more productive decisions during difficult times. That’s a tall order though when it feels like the world is collapsing around you.
I’ve had many challenges in life, from an early age, but the most influential times were during my mother’s long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. The role reversal (the child becomes the parent), watching helplessly as the illness ravaged her mind and body, and helping to do everything from administer medication to hand-feeding her took a toll on me emotionally that I probably have yet to fully realize. But it did change me; in ways I can’t even imagine yet.
I look at the world a little differently now, having experienced for myself, largely for the first time, the fragility of life. But it was the experience of caring for my mom over the course of a couple of years that slowly burned away layers of my rigid exterior, making me “feel” more than I had previously been accustomed.
It’s really what we do with those feelings that make the difference in the long run. While an experience like I had with my mother could have left me bitter and resentful, I ended up taking to heart a more positive side and a greater appreciation for my family as a whole. Others aren’t so lucky.
Many people emerge from crucible events in a much darker place, filled with resentment or guilt or other emotions that eat away at their core, keeping them from seeing the good that came out of whatever had happened. And, there is always some good – sometimes it’s just very hard to see. Either way, we are changed, different, but it’s up to each of us to decide how those events ultimately affect our lives.
Watch independent columnist Gery L. Deer monthly on WDTN-TV2’s Living Dayton. More at http://www.gerydeer.com.