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The Bigger Picture


Sometimes I live in a pretend world filled with fun, stimulating conversations with everyone I know, hours of open time to do whatever I feel like doing, and endless amounts of money in the bank. Absent are frustrating, too-busy days, misunderstandings that end badly, tally sheets filled with computations aimed at balancing the cash devoted to fun and practicality, and worries about whatever is engaging my brain that day. In my real world, I find myself striving for the former, as if it’s possible to have an actual life without the latter. And thoughts of this make me realize how often I find myself disparaging the days that are stressful and the interactions that don’t resolve easily.

Still, despite my innate knowledge that this is a silly way to live, I construct elaborate versions of perfection to distract me from the parts of my life that displease me. I am like the town council hiding the shadier parts of my tourist town behind white-washed false fronts. But I am a much tougher audience than anyone who strolls past my daily life. It’s all for me, this effort to highlight the good and get rid of the bad, as if this were actually a thing—a life with only sweet, pleasant moments and harmonious background music highlighting every event.

This is what makes a life, the good and the bad, the goals, the slammed doors, the adventures, the accomplishments,

the failures.

It occurs to me now, of course, how ridiculous this is. I think of how many hours I’ve spent sweeping away the awkward, frustrating, infuriating moments in hopes of seeing only the beautiful, rich floor beneath them. I realized this week, after a difficult conversation with my partner, that occasionally being passive aggressive, immature and defensive, although nothing I’m proud of, is part of who I am. I don’t even really like saying that, but somehow admitting that it’s a piece of the bigger package makes me feel as if I can actually rest a little.

The point I’m making here is that all of this is me and my life. The good parts—the conversations in which we agree on everything, the hikes under lovely blue skies, the plans that actually come to fruition—are amazing. But the harder aspects—the tough decisions, the problems that don’t ever quite seem to get resolved, the stress of kids and money and work—are part of the deal. This is what makes a life, the good and the bad, the goals, the slammed doors, the adventures, the accomplishments, the failures. As cliché as it sounds, the good isn’t even quite as good without the struggles to get there.

At this end of life, gazing at only the best views would be nice, but totally unrealistic. I like knowing what it took to make this journey, how easy it is to misstep and how much there is to learn when you do. But I’m also realizing how much of a habit it is to want to trash the grim moments, to wish for only the efficient and easy. That I’ve grown most from the challenges goes without saying. That I’d never know how nice the nice is without the hard is a given. It’s natural, I get it, to long for smooth sailing and open skies, but I think I’ve short-changed myself by wanting to crop the rough and blurry spots out of my life photo.

I have no plan to aim for hard times to help me appreciate my wholeness, but I think I might make a new practice of appreciating everything, not just the delicious moments. It’s all part of the bigger picture anyway, part of the icing that makes things particularly sweet.

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