Early this spring, during my morning of chores and yoga, I watched a documentary about a young woman with cystic fibrosis—the same disease that I have, although hers was much more advanced—preparing for a lung transplant. It was a tough film to watch, but ultimately uplifting. And, for that day at least, it changed the way I thought. An hour or two after the film had finished, I grabbed my keys and headed out to my car to run an errand. As I slid behind the wheel, my mind still on that morning’s documentary, I thought: I’m so grateful that I don’t have to maneuver an oxygen tank; it’s so nice to be able to move freely, without worrying about tubing and concentrators.
Immediately on the heels of that thought came another, much less happy one. But I don’t want to have to be grateful for that, I heard myself saying. I may not be on oxygen, but I still can’t walk very far without getting tired. I still can’t live a normal life, or do normal things. It’s still not fair.
And in that moment, before enough time had passed for me to so much as put my key into the car’s ignition, I had an instant of crystal clarity. This is my choice, I thought. I can choose to be grateful, or I can choose to still want more.
. . . . .
For several years, I have struggled with the unfulfilled desire for motherhood. I have always been that girl—the one who loved babies and children, the one who used to imagine a family of six or eight or ten, the one who considered twins an exciting challenge. It was hard for me, as a teenager, to realize that my disease and the fragility of my body would make both pregnancy and motherhood difficult; it has been even harder, as an adult, to wait through years of poor health, delays, setbacks, and infertility for the child I longed for so desperately. All around me, my friends conceived and mothered with ease and grace, while I was left childless and wanting.
Again and again, as the frustration and the anger and the pain drove me to what I felt like was the absolute limit of my endurance, I came back to the same truth.
This is my life, and I cannot change it.
I can only choose whether I’ll be happy, or unhappy.
. . . . .
Years ago in mid-October, I was admitted to the hospital through the emergency room, after several days of chest pain that had ultimately grown so severe that I couldn’t even sleep. I felt like my nightmares had come true—I had to pull out of classes mid-semester, had to watch my life be completely disrupted by the unexpected turn of events.
For the two weeks that I spent in the hospital that autumn, I found myself feeling an anger I had rarely felt before. It isn’t fair, I thought over and over again. It isn’t fair that this had to happen. It isn’t fair that my life has to be different. It isn’t fair that my future is clouded with uncertainty, and I have trouble seeing past my thirties. None of this is fair.
And yet, when those weeks had ended and I was left trying to pick up the pieces of my life once again, I felt truth sinking into my heart. Fair or not, this was my life, and it was out of my control. The only thing I could control was the state of my heart: would I continue to fight the things I could not change, or would I choose to be happy anyway?
. . . . .
Late this summer, I watched with disbelief as two pink lines appeared on the pregnancy test on my bathroom counter. After such a long time of waiting, it didn’t seem real; for weeks, I felt like I was on a roller-coaster of joy and hope and fear and disbelief. And, to my surprise, dissatisfaction. Here was my dream come true, the thing that I had wanted for so many years—and yet, somehow, I couldn’t let go of my feelings of jealousy and frustration. I found myself clinging to the idea of what I had originally wanted, wishing that this blessing had come into my life years earlier. I couldn’t stop looking with envy at my friends, their homes already filling with children, so much further along this path that I was only beginning to walk.
Last month, I walked along the North Carolina coastline, trying to reconcile my unexpected feelings of frustration with the incredible joy that this pregnancy had brought into my life. And, as the warm East coast waves lapped at my feet, I came again to the understanding that I have come to so many times before:
It’s my choice. I can allow myself to be consumed in anger and pain and jealousy, dwelling on the things in my life that have not gone as I wanted.
Or, I can choose happiness. I can choose to go where life takes me; to be content with the ups and downs, with the life that I have, rather than the life that I might have wanted.
. . . . .
This choice—the choice between being happy and being unhappy—seems to confront me at all angles of my life, in good times and in bad. And every time it does, I am struck all over again by the power of this simple truth that so many wise men and women throughout the ages have known:
Ultimately, my happiness is all up to me.
How will I choose today?