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The Experience of Life

by Jo Wilkie

A full and rich life includes not only good times and happiness, but also low points and sadness. We all know that, but many of us resist it, myself included.

Over the past few months, while this blog has been relatively quiet (for me, anyway), things have been sort of not so great. Not terrible, but, not great. Being who I am, I am incapable of writing anything of real value without first being upfront about my own inner landscape. This is probably a fault of epic proportion, but it is true.

A few months ago, a neighbor from our home in the States was killed, tragically, in his home. The details are gruesome and not worth repeating. What is worth saying is that my neighbor was an amazing man, a pillar of the community, who was one of the first people outside of my family to hold my child. He saw Susanne take some of her first steps, and he and his wife helped to feed our family when we were trying to figure out how to be parents.

I cannot even imagine the deep hole that has been left by his death – his family was so close, his children, always at their house with their children. The feeling of utter helplessness in the face of such unthinkable circumstances has left me tired. I cried on and off for days after I heard the news, but, after all, I am not family, I live thousands of miles away, and, in reality, am not terribly close to the family. I want so much to reach out to my neighbor’s wife, but am struck by my insignificance and end up confused as to whether my efforts are more for my comfort or hers. Hence, I do nothing but pray for her and the kids.

During all this, Susanne was sick for, oh, five months. After five months of quiet desperation (okay, not so quiet, really), finally, we were able to get a diagnosis, which is so simple, it’s silly. The sweet girl is allergic to eggs and mold. Finally, we are seeing improvement. She’s sleeping, she’s going to the bathroom, her eyes are no longer swollen and runny, and her mood is improving. My relief is huge, my gratitude for finding out relatively quickly is immense. But it made for a hard winter.

Speaking of hard winter, last year, I thought my problem was simply being new to life in Rome. After this year, I now know, I cannot stand Rome in winter. Thank goodness winter is not so long here, but it has seemed interminable. I lived in the northwest most of my life, so I am okay with rain – it doesn’t bother me. But this year, Rome saw more rain than I’ve ever seen in a short period of time. It has been abysmal. And I’m not exaggerating. It’s finally sunny, and maybe that’s why I finally feel compelled to write again.

Added to all this, I have been unable to run. And in my life, little exercise = little energy. Even with a consistent practice of Yoga and meditation, I need (NEED) serious aerobic exercise. To maintain energy, to keep my perspective, to feel positive about life. You might imagine, I really needed those things this winter, and they were unavailable to me.

With any luck, this doesn’t sound like whining. I hope not, anyway. For now, the sun has returned to Rome and it feels like Spring is on the way. Susanne is on the mend, and my heart is a softer, more tender place for losing my neighbor. It’s the full experience, right? How could I possibly feel the joy I feel when I see a blue sky had the rain not seemed endless? How could I possibly see how lucky we are to have good medical care and a healthy child without the experience of her being ill for so long? My list of gratitude could circle to world…

Ebb and flow, contraction and expansion, yin and yang- however we choose to refer to it, it is simply life in all it’s glory. Our work is to lean in and be present to the full, rich and unedited, messy reality. It can be difficult to sit with our strong emotions and our life challenges, to not try to wiggle away from the uncomfortable experiences and get back to the good stuff.

But, it IS worth it to try, if for nothing else than to stop fighting a good 50% of life experiences.

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