Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.
As a kid, I remember complaining to my parents about my various aches and pains – and my parents would often say “that’s just growing pains.” Man I didn’t realize back then what they really meant – that growing up is literally painful – not just physically, but emotionally. How do you tell young people what is ahead of them? That becoming an adult is incredibly hard. That change can be excruciating painful. That growth is HARD WORK and no one can do it for you. That each one of us is going to face heartbreak, loss, and hardships that we never thought we would be able to handle. And that even when we get through a tough time, there is going to be another one down the road, and then another, and another.
I think it’s like what some people say about childbirth – that if women actually shared how painful it truly is, no one would choose to be a parent. If children knew how hard it is to enter adulthood, they would likely try to join Peter Pan in Never Never Land where no one grows up!
I remember when one of my best childhood friends lost his best friend in a tragic accident during our freshman year of college. A few short years later, he lost his father to cancer. I remember him telling me the day of his dad’s funeral that maybe his best friend’s death helped him prepare in some way for his father’s. Over 20 years later, what he told me has stayed with me all this time. I have often thought about how strong he was at the young age of 21 to try to cope with his grief by relying on what he had learned about himself during what had previously been the tougest loss he had faced. He taught me something about how to grieve, how to cope with pain, and how to grow.
My friend Erin and I had drinks together this week, and as we often do, we spoke about our lives, our struggles, and the lessons we are trying to learn. I did a terrible job trying to re-tell this wonderful story that teaches a great lesson about overcoming pain. I looked it up later to share with Erin, and decided I wanted to write about it in my blog, so here it is!
I hope that the author Sofo Archon of The Unbounded Spirit blog doesn’t mind if I share his story. His entire blog post can be found here.
The story begins when a young woman who is going through a very painful experience and reaches out to her wise grandmother for help:
“Her grandmother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil; without saying a word.
In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.
Turning to her granddaughter, she asked, ‘Tell me what you see.’
‘Carrots, eggs, and coffee,’ she replied.
Her grandmother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The grandmother then asked the granddaughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard boiled egg.
Finally, the grandmother asked the granddaughter to sip the coffee. The granddaughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The granddaughter then asked, ‘What does it mean, grandmother?’
Her grandmother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.
“Which are you?” she asked her granddaughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?
Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity? Do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?
Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?
Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level?
How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?
May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human and enough hope to make you happy.
The happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way. The brightest future will always be based on a forgotten past; you can’t go forward in life until you let go of your past failures and heartaches.
When you were born, you were crying and everyone around you was smiling. Live your life so at the end, you’re the one who is smiling and everyone around you is crying.
May we all be like the COFFEE.”
Here are some painful truths.
- When we live a life where we are open to love (any kind of love – not just romantic love), it is certain that we will experience pain at some point in the future. Not just possible. CERTAIN.
- We are each responsible for how we cope with that pain, how we grieve, how we heal, how we grow. It is up to each of us to decide if we want to be the carrots, the egg, or the coffee.
- There is no “pain contest” where anyone wins because their hardships are greater than one another. Who would want to win that anyway?? Each of us has our hardships, and it doesn’t help anyone to try to compare whose burden is greater.
I kind of hate the phrase “Everything happens for a reason” because it is too trite. I rephrase it to say “Everything happens for a reason if we take the time and put in the hark work to make meaning out of our experiences.” Too long to inscribe on a coffee mug, but still true.
My intent is not to bring everyone down with this post – sorry that if it’s a bit intense! My intent is to speak the truth, and to encourage everyone to own your choices. I have not always made the right choices – that is FOR SURE. And you know what – I am CERTAIN that I am going to make more mistakes, and I am certain that I am going to experience more pain and loss in my future.
What I have tried to do is stop being a victim, and to own the decisions I made – or didn’t make – that got me to where I am, so that I learn my lessons and can move on with my life. One of the best compliments I received recently was from a friend who told me I was “wise.” Wisdom is healed pain. It hasn’t been easy – and it has been a lot of work up to this point. I have worked with a therapist/coach for years, and my work is ongoing and never-ending. And it has been so incredibly worth it.
Just like the grandmother says in this story, when we are like the coffee, we change. We grow. We are able to let go of our heartache and our painful pasts. We are able to heal, and we remain open to love. We have the ability to experience joy. We can be happy with what we have, and we can look forward to a bright future. It won’t be perfect – but it will be ours.
“I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”
From the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley