We might be tempted to think that life should be as easy as walking on soft, powdery sand. I don’t know how this idea started or, even, when it started. Certainly, it was not the mindset of people 100 years ago. Our grandparents knew that life was hard. Not only did they experience civil wars and world wars in their lifetime, they knew what it was like to miss meals and live without heat and clothes. The Great Depression was a hard taskmaster, but those who lived through the tribulation learned valuable lessons: work is hard, health is precious, happiness is a choice, and life holds no promises.
My grandfather managed to get his wife and young son out of Eastern Europe between World War I and World War II. When she arrived in the United States, my grandmother worked as a cleaning lady at night and prepared all homemade meals, cleaned her home, and used a wringer washing machine to wash clothes. They were hard-working people, and they were happy with their simple life.
But, not us. Even with bombings, terrorism, and school shootings, we persist in our fantasy that everything is possible if we just believe. Somewhere over the rainbow, we adopted a cultural delusion that “dreams really do come true.” In fact, we hear it, we see it, and we proclaim it as “the American Dream.” We all know the mantra: If we work hard, we will be successful (as in rich); if we fail, then we didn’t try hard enough. If we dream it, we deserve it. All of our aspirations are within our grasp.
What happens when dreams fail? How do we cope with disappointment? I would venture to guess that there are more people on the road of sharded glass than on the ladder of golden rungs. Our lives have left us in pain as our ambitions bleed onto the landscape. Nevertheless, hope does spring forth from the sanguine fluid.
Being disAbled has afforded me the opportunity to meet many people facing chronic illness, pain, and the accompanying fear and disappointment. We belong to an exclusive club as our lives are parsed out in days segmented by fatigue and frustration. Still, I am amazed at the presence of hope. Of course, we have our days of ranting against the system. We are ignored, marginalized, and patronized. Yet, we are a positive, realistic bunch. How did this happen?
Living with a chronic illness requires adaptation. As we adapt, we learn how to be creative and flexible. Just like the Great Depression taught our grandparents hard lessons, our suffering has schooled us on being patient, persistent, and prepared. We have faith.
The road might be paved with broken glass, but because we have faith, we have hope.