As a single parent, do you ever find yourself wondering, on a particularly difficult, emotionally overwrought day, “Why can’t I have a normal life?” I admit that I do.
I was thinking that way tonight. As a matter of fact, I was well on my way to a full-blown pity party.
But before I got past the hors d’oeuvres, a quiet little uninvited guest of a thought interrupted my revelry. It said to me: what is “normal”? And whom do you know who has a “normal” life, anyway?
“Normal,” as I think of it when I’m feeling low, is a life in which things unfold as expected. “Normal” is when our dreams for our kids and ourselves actually work out.
OK, so I’ve defined my terms; now what? Now let me rattle off the endless list of everyone I know – except for me, of course – who enjoys the much-envied “normal” life.
Let’s see. Are these people living the “normal” lives I sometimes crave so desperately?
• The woman my age whose husband died in his sleep last Spring
• The neighbors who adopted because they were unable to conceive
• The friend whose brother died tragically young
• The relatives who’ve survived cancer
• The husband and father who was paralyzed in a diving accident
• The friend who lost her husband in the World Trade Center on 9/11
• The woman whose adult son no longer speaks to her
• The kids who lost their mother accidentally to carbon monoxide poisoning
• The elderly neighbor who cares for his chronically ill wife
• The friend whose father doesn’t know her because of Alzheimer’s
I could go on and on and I’m not making these up. These are all real people in my everyday circle of family, friends and acquaintances. The more I think about it, the more I realize that I’m having trouble thinking of anyone who’s living my fantasy of a “normal” life.
Which leads me to conclude: “normal” must be a myth. “Normal” exists only in our imaginations.
So if no one actually lives a “normal” life – if despair is just one heartbreak away for most of us — then then how do any of us achieve peace?
I looked up from my computer screen just now (I’m not just saying this – it really happened) and began to re-read the “Prayer of St. Francis” that’s been hanging on the wall above my computer for about six months now. Are you familiar with it?
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek To be consoled, as to console; To be understood, as to understand; To be loved, as to love; For it is in giving that we receive, It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
The secret to peace, I think, is to stop looking for it outside ourselves. It’s not there. At least, I haven’t found it there. I suspect that the key to peace is actually inside us.
Peace comes, perhaps, when we accept (if we’re spiritually inclined) that there’s a plan for each of our lives that we can’t know and, in many ways, can’t control. And as St. Francis suggests, we can actually become instruments of peace if we’re willing to help others deal with their pain.
It makes sense when you think about it. If we all actually did this, we’d be passing peace around like a winter cold. It’d be catching!
Wherever you are, whoever you are, know that your life is unfolding just as it should be, all is in divine order, and every precious little moment on this planet is worthy of your presence.
— Nancy Vogl, co-author of “Chicken Soup for the Single Parent’s Soul”