The gift of crisis

Carla was waiting for Matt when he woke up from his cardiac ablation. October 2012

Aunt Carla was waiting for Matt when he woke up from his cardiac ablation.
Washington, DC, October 2012

“You have been offered the gift of crisis.  As Kathleen Norris reminds us, the Greek root of the word crisis is “to sift,” as in to shake out the excesses and leave only what’s important.  That’s what crises do.  They shake things up until we are forced to hold on to only what matters most.”Glennon Doyle Melton

Probably the only person I know who comes close to really understanding what Matt’s life has been like so far, is my sister Carla. Like Matt, she was born with a lot of medical challenges that meant she spent far too much of her childhood in hospitals.  As if all that were not enough, as a young girl she was severely injured in the automobile accident that almost took our mother’s life, which resulted in more surgery and hospital time.

I can say in all honesty, though, that I’ve never detected the slightest bit of self-pity on her part about all she has suffered.  Instead, I remember her telling me about the friends she made in the hospital, the doctors and nurses and fellow patients she described, how she loved the many cards people sent her, and how I always missed her patient and cheerful spirit when she was not at home with us.

It’s no coincidence that Aunt Carla has a particularly close bond with Matt.  She’s the one who came to stay with him during Jeff’s long hospitalization recently, and the one who also was here with us for Matt’s own recent cardiac hospitalization last October.  She and Matt share a lot of inside jokes, a love of the Pink Panther movies, Monty Python’s Holy Grail and similar zany humor, and so many silly giggles that I have occasionally been known to tell them both to STIFLE IT!!!

But what she and Matt share most is an understanding of what really matters; an intuitive sense that eludes most of us who get in a tizzy about things that are relatively unimportant.  As Melton says, crisis sifts out the empty fluff and leaves behind the essentials that enrich life most — and, obviously, that includes love, loyalty and a lot of laughter.

Have you ever been offered the gift of crisis? If you’re like me, you’d do your best to politely decline it.  But that’s usually not an option.  What, then, has it taught you? What got sifted out, and what remains?

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

12 Comments

  1. Chris

    Julia,
    Very touching. It would seem that Carla has been a blessing for you, in various ways. To some degree, I think most folks endure crises throughout their life. It’s part of it. As I look back, I’ve had a few. And it’s taken the better part of my 64 years to glean the “important” things that matter. But I’ve finally made it to that stage where I don’t worry as much as before. I’m trying to focus on the essentials that enrich the life we have today.
    Have a great week!

    • Thanks Chris. I agree that almost everyone endures some tragic or life-changing events in this life, although it does seem to me that some have more than their fair share. I remember a minister once saying that life was like riding in the coach cabin of an airplane after deregulation, when some people maybe paid $99 for the same ride that others paid $300, $400 or $500 for. Everyone is dealt a different hand and some get better cards than others. Having said that, anyone who is lucky enough to live a long life will unavoidably endure more sorrow than those who die young. Many of those who make it to 90 or 100 will bury some of their children as well as all their siblings and probably their spouse as well. None of us is spared, so as you say, we have to focus on making the best of whatever time we are allowed. Hope you’re having a good week. I’m loving the fall weather!

  2. mike c.

    Also a dangerous opportunity in Chinese calligraphy? I like the sifting thoughts too.

    Last week on Wednesday one of our young social workers- Christoper was killed in a car accident on I75 close to downtown Atlanta. Exit 261- Delk road. No one knows what really happened, He was 42. He has one surviving sister in Alabama where he is from. This has thrown a lot of us and i hope it can be some kind of sifting about what really matters.
    Perhaps as he has the same name as my younger son and is only a a year older it is hitting me pretty hard- but still 42. Too young too soon. One of his good friends read the Maya Angelou poem “When great trees fall.” at a virtual remembrance time.
    It seems unreal.

    • Mike, I am so sorry that you lost your colleague. And yes, that is far too young. It’s even harder when there are unanswered questions. I hope that his sister has lots of support. I can well imagine that such a sudden loss would feel unreal, probably for quite awhile.

  3. mike c.

    But i am not sure i would call this crisis- a gift.

    • No, I think there’s a difference between a crisis and a tragedy. Such an untimely death is more what I would call a tragedy than a crisis. Either way, the hardships are not gifts in themselves, but I do think that we can (with God’s help) find ways to grow through them and thus find some meaning in what may feel very senseless and bewildering.

  4. mike c.

    So the people with the 500 dollar seats are living in the First world?

    • No, just the opposite. The expensive plane fare is a metaphor for those who pay a high price to survive in this world– or in some cases, not survive. It rarely is about money. People in the first world often (but not always) get the rock-bottom lowest fares in life, metaphorically speaking– the easiest deal for an entire lifetime, like a gift unearned. Others, here and in the developing world, have to pay much higher fares than anyone we know. My hardest moments are when I try to come up with one person I know personally who has been dealt even a few of the cards I’ve had to play. For example, as mentioned, I am the only one of all the people our age we have known over the years, who has lost a spouse to death. And also, none of our friends has a son or daughter with lifelong disabilities and five open heart surgeries so far. So comparison of who pays what in this life is a losing game for those of us who have paid the high prices in one way or another. I try not to think about it.

  5. mike c.

    Some very tough cards to play in your own life. Watching the Net Flix series Away with Hillary Swank. I think i am about half way through. They are having trouble with the ship’s water supply system and have to cut the water rations. They stop watering the plants and all die except one that continues. There is no rational explanation. The engineer thinks it is a case of spontaneous adaptation – like a dandelion growing out o f a sidewalk crack. There is a study in England about underpriveleged kids who survive the system and overcome it. They are called “Dandelion” kids.

    • One of my all-time favorite books, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, takes its title from that same concept. Here’s a quote from the early part of the book: “There’s a tree that grows in Brooklyn. Some people call it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed falls, it makes a tree which struggles to reach the sky. It grows in boarded up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps. It grows up out of cellar gratings. It is the only tree that grows out of cement. It grows lushly…survives without sun, water, and seemingly earth…” The main character, Francie (who during my youth I considered my fictional other self) is obviously the metaphorical tree that survives no matter what.

  6. mike c.

    Yea some people are probably clueless most of their lives having never experienced significant loss,or having a serious illness, or had to go without something food, clothing, or shelter. They are ill prepared when a “real crisis” appears in their life. And when it does- well???

    • Well, that’s when they learn. Some handle it well; others, not so much. It’s so easy for any of us to start thinking we’re entitled to keep whatever we’ve always had.

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