"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." ~ Victor Frankl
I just finished the book Here If You Need Me, a brilliant memoir by Kate Braestrup. Kate is a writer who became a minster shortly after her husband's death. Being a minister wasn't her dream; it was her late husband's dream and because he didn't get the chance to achieve that, she offered up her own vocation for him. She is the chaplain to the game wardens of Maine, the group of brave public servants who conduct searches for people who are lost in the deep Maine woods, the person who falls through the ice, the hiker who ventures too far for too long. Their work can be dangerous and frequently ends with a tragic discovery. They need a good chaplain and they have a superb one in Kate.
The book is a fast, inspiring read. Of all the anecdotes that stand out in my mind, the most vivid in my mind is her description of her job as standing on the hinge of life. Kate is the one who waits with the families as the game wardens search for their loved ones that are lost or missing. She counsels the wardens after tragic circumstances are discovered. She stands with them in these uncomfortable, difficult moments that will come to define their lives. These are the moments that define their befores and afters.
All through the book I kept thinking about this metaphor, this hinge of life. I kept thinking about how many hinges I've been on lately. These moments that define my own befores and afters. Each one presents an opportunity for choice - we get to choose our attitude, our way forward, our outlook, and the learnings we take away from each experience.
September 2009 could have left a very deep scar on my heart. Instead, I had to make it a time of great learning and exploration. I had to make those days count by allowing them to teach me what's truly important to me. They became a time of great commitment for me. Instead of being wracked by fear, I realized that I had nothing to fear because I knew I would be fine no matter what happened from here on out. I survived the perfect storm.
September was one big hinge for me and gave me the chance to recognize quite literally that the important things in life aren't things. It taught me that I want very deep, meaningful relationships to be the core of my life. I set myself on a course to eventually write full-time. New York most certainly became my long-time home. On October 1st, I knew with certainty what I wanted from my life with a clarity I've never had before. And it feels great.
Hinges are difficult. They are filled with great expectations and great hesitancy. They are points of no turning back. Unless we're people like Kate, we only get a few opportunities to stand at the hinge of our own lives. Life doesn't offer up learnings and choices of that type of poignancy every day. And thank goodness because they can be incredibly stressful times. Though when we get the chance to stand at the edge of our lives and decide in a very profound way who we are and who we mean to be, it's an opportunity we should approach with a grateful and open heart. After all, we will not be able to pass this way again.