THE BLOG
08/12/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Making the Best of the Worst

Some people I know are exquisitely sensitive. Every hurt, harm, or horror imprints their impressionable soul(s). Meanwhile others laugh it off, tough it out, shut down, deny, or resolutely move on. How marvelous are the varieties of human resilience.

When I was a kid, I recall seeing a Jules Feiffer cartoon portraying a woman whose hair stood on end as she looked into a closet and pointed with horror at something she saw there. The caption read, "Enid not only expects the worst, but makes the worst of it when it happens."

I've known my share of folks like Enid, and at times, I've even been one of the one, savoring each brush stroke in the ghastly drama painted in my mind's eye as if suffering itself was a work of art. Though urged to "get over it," or assured that "everything happens for the best," until I had repainted this picture for each one of my circle of confidantes, I wasn't complete and ready to move on.

Yet more and more, I've wondered: Is that process really helpful or is it making me feel worse? Is my sense that everything is grist for some internal processing mill the royal road to integrating my experience and becoming a better person? Or is it a self-indulgent, energy drain deflecting me from the all important task of co-creating a better world?

I have a friend who considers processing a big waste of time. But nineteen years after a painful episode, it's as alive for him as if it occurred yesterday. I know someone else who has microscopically gone over a painful loss for four years and isn't yet done.

What fascinates me is that everyone thinks that their own way of handling the "bad things that happen to good people" is the only way. But as far as I can tell, people have different speeds.

When you're a "ready to be done with it" type, it's a pain to hang with a sob sister (or brother.) Or if you're one who won't let go until you've chewed on every detail, don't you just love that well-meant advice or insight that's supposed to undo the horror you feel--but doesn't?

A friend called me the other day, couldn't reach me, and left a message. "Wait until I tell you what's going on," he said. "You won't believe it."

We played phone tag for a few days until we finally spoke.

"So what's going on?" I asked awaiting the latest and greatest.

"Oh, that, " he said, "It happened a few days ago. For some reason, it's not so interesting any more."

Perhaps time - and/or telling your story--does heal all wounds.

Because in certain cases of "the worst," telling your story is an essential component of healing. Only that act of revelation will allow you to re-enter the human community, especially when what you've experienced is painful, horrific, or shameful in ways that initiate you into a different life experience than the average.

This comes alive in the healing stories in Bernie Siegel, MD's new book Faith, Hope, and Healing. Bernie Siegel, who is the godfather of the integrative health movement, offers up true, personal stories of people living with cancer. The many voices assembled reveal how "the worst" (a deadly illness)-- can become a road to healing, love, recovery, and deeper understanding-- "the best."

As Dina Howard, one of the contributors to this volume writes, "Our reflections are about what we see when we bend over still water, get close to ourselves, and see the truth. .. we can all begin again without the need to physically die, but with the need to eliminate the parts of our lives that are killing us so we can truly live."

Maybe as creative acts, our stories help that little old phoenix within rise from the ashes of the worst to create a new best. My own hope for our country is that with all of the systemic forces that are not working in our favor, we can get a good look, see the truth, make the needed changes--and live on to create and enjoy the best.

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