We have a friend that’s super into very challenging wood puzzles. I got curious about her hobby a couple years ago and she sent me a few to try. They were some of her more entry-level puzzles, but I still found them quite challenging (a word of caution: attempting hobbies practiced by Harvard law professors can be, unsurprisingly, quite the ego-check). As I worked on them, I felt incredibly frustrated. WHERE WAS THE DAMN PIECE THAT FIT? SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH THIS PUZZLE! WHAT MASOCHIST CREATED THIS TORTURE? … And then, O.M.G. I FOUND IT! IT FITS! IT’S BEAUTIFUL! I AM TRIUMPHANT!
I became obsessed for a few days until I completed all the puzzles, and then in the interest of preserving my fragile sanity, I packed them away. Recently, though, I got the itch to do some more. Rebecca obliged, loaning me several more to work on. Eric rolled his eyes, knowing obsessiveness and frustration would soon reign.
As I worked on the puzzles and got temporarily stumped, I had a fervent wish: “why can’t this be easier?” Several hours later when I placed the final piece, I regretted my wish. I would never have enjoyed the tremendous satisfaction of placing the final piece had there been no challenge, no struggle.
Not to get too grandiose, but the parallels to life were not lost on me. Ever since I was a child, I’ve had the sense that something “big” was looming. I couldn’t say what it was, but five years ago, as I lay in the hospital bed and the surgeon delivered the diagnosis, I knew immediately, this was it. Oddly, as devastating as the news was, there was a relief in resolving the mystery. Finally, the gauntlet had been thrown, it was time for me to rise to the challenge.
Rising to the challenge didn’t necessarily mean conjuring a miracle and overcoming nearly impossible odds (although: yes, please). It meant facing this challenge to the best of my abilities: choosing treatments wisely, taking care of myself, helping others, proactively seeking and supporting research, role-modeling all the things for my children (fear & courage, weakness & strength, pain & joy, resilience). So many of the experiences, and much of the learning and growth that has happened in the past 5 years, would likely not have happened without the prompt of the diagnosis.
As someone I admire often says: I’ve never met an interesting person who’s had an easy life. Bam! How’s that for a perspective shift? I swore I’d never be one of those people who say “cancer is a gift,” and I won’t say that. The struggle, the pain, the torture (whether the source is cancer, or something else) is not the gift. But it is a critical piece (of the puzzle, natch) in navigating to the gifts: finding meaning, remembering gratitude, savoring triumphs. What I’ve learned? Don’t try to side-step challenges. Embrace them. They hold the keys to unlocking some of life’s greatest treasures.
Now can somebody help me put together this f**king puzzle?