The new normal

The week before last, my in-laws were hit by a truck while crossing the street after dinner.

The time since has been a disorienting whirlwind of sadness, fear, hope and thankfulness.  My mother-in-law suffered a very serious brain injury, and while she has cleared the first hurdle of basic survival, the outlook won’t be clear for quite some time.  It’s been enormously trying on the whole family, and will continue to be for a long time; maybe forever.

The issue I want to reflect on here is how, in the face of previously unimaginable circumstances, we seem to have the ability to quickly reset to the new normal.  Two weeks ago it was unthinkable that this would have happened and she’d be in this condition, and now, that’s just how things are — that’s where we’re starting from and it’s what we have to work with.

I find that encouraging, and also a little bit scary.  On the one hand, it shows how adaptable humans are, how we can handle more than we might think.  On the other hand, it shows how fragile any current environment or situation can be.  I’m inspired by our ability to take things in stride, and also a little bit terrified by the reality of how quickly things can change.

For instance, lots of the talk this election cycle has been drawing parallels between now and the WWII era, in particular looking at what people did or didn’t do to stop the rise of Hitler.  As with Trump today, Germans of the 1930s didn’t take Hitler seriously, and I’m sure couldn’t believe that such a radical change in national character could happen so quickly.  Whether or not you find that comparison fair, the point is that things can change quickly (or seemingly quickly).

Given that, I’m thinking about two things:

First, man you gotta appreciate what you have when you have it.  Looking back at photos from two weeks ago, or thinking about the last time we saw each other a day before the accident — that’s a lifetime ago now. And it’s cliche, but realizing how quickly things can change really helps you motivate to appreciate what you have.  Whether that’s family, friends, democracy, or the environment (however imperfect each may be).  For the past week, every time I’ve been snuggled up with my kids & my wife, or enjoying a moment with a friend, or tackling an interesting work-related issue, I’ve been hyper aware of how awesome is to be alive and doing that.

Second, maybe change isn’t so scary after all.  Someone once explained this to me as pain x resistance = suffering.  We burn a lot of effort and energy worrying about what might happen and what it might mean, resisting any exposure to pain.  But this is ineffective and counterproductive, and in fact only increases our suffering.  When bad things actually do happen, we face the pain and move through it, and only then are then able to build up.  This is hard to internalize, especially with smaller things on a day-to-day basis, but I think there’s something there to grab onto.

To sum up, I just want to say thank you to everyone that has been supporting us through this time, and also thank you to everyone out there putting one foot in front of the other to get through every day, no matter what issues are dogging you.

   

  • I am so sorry to hear about the accident. I am not sure how I can help but if I can, please let me know.

    • thanks julien — nothing to do, but I appreciate the sentiment.

  • Sending you huge karma. Great positive perspective from you.

  • Alex Preukschat

    Fully with you. As a suggestion Mindfulness has been helpful to many people around the world for awareness, empathy and people suffering from a disease. You probably know it already.

  • I hope for a full recovery for your mother in law and your father in law is doing well. In addition I wish strength for your wife during this trying period.

  • Hi Nick, I hope your MIL will recover fully from her TBI. Sometimes it’s shocking how life can change from moment to moment. I hope she gets the best care.

  • Drew V

    I am truly sorry for what happened and hope that your family recovers. Thank you for this post and sharing your thoughts. The “pain x resistance = suffering” is very strong and helps put things in perspective. A perspective that many of us need, including myself. Thank you.

  • Oh, Nick, I’m so sorry.