I swear, I wasn’t going to write today.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s how I started my last post, written two days ago.
I’ve got several posts lined up in my mind, generally upbeat topics and interesting things I’d like to share with you, and I thought I’d get to one of them later this week.
In the meantime I’ve been keeping up with Dutch elections. Voters went to the polls yesterday to express their views toward creation of a new coalition government, with important implications not only for the Netherlands but also for the future of the European Union and Euro Zone.
I’ve also been lamenting the sorry state of affairs in the Middle East, but that’s another story.
I’ve even managed to squeeze in some work on my book; it’s going slower than I’d like, but progressing nonetheless.
While focusing on reading, writing and doing some research these past two days, the theme of gratitude has been on my mind.
You know how you read an article about a topic, and catch a snippet of the same issue in a blog post, on the radio or in the news? It seems to be everywhere, in part because you’ve opened up yourself to being receptive to that subject. Your antennae are poised.
Yet there’s no denying that it also feels as if the universe is trying to tell you something. All things considered, I think gratitude is a pretty good message to have reinforced, from cosmic messengers or otherwise.
So I was puttering along with gratitude and emotional resilience on my mind when I got the equivalent of a karmic bitch slap upside the head.
Let me digress.
In my extended visit ’back home’ this past summer, much time was spent catching up with a lot of family and friends. Much of the time the news was upbeat; sometimes it was up and down (my father’s situation), and sometimes downright difficult (visiting my friend suffering from a cancerous brain tumor).
Yet even in the midst of the darkest moments, the flame of resilience continued to burn. The concept of gratitude for life’s blessings was present as well.
However, during a relaxing lunch with a former neighbor, I was stunned to learn of a heartrending scandal (no other word to describe it) that had rocked the neighborhood since we’d left more than three years ago, one involving our former next-door neighbors and another family.
No need to go into seedy detail, suffice it to say that it involved adultery, a very public lawsuit about a sexually transmitted disease, two marriages in tatters and two families ripped apart.
I’m not writing this to share salacious gossip or cast stones. I’m not assigning blame or passing judgment. I don’t believe it’s my (or anyone else’s) place to do so; it is my belief that a higher order (in my case, God) will sort all that out and he/it doesn’t need my help.
I couldn’t help but be surprised and deeply saddened by the turn of events. These were nice people, good people (well, 3 of the 4 at least, I’ve never liked the fourth, and let’s just say he appears to have been showing his true colors in all of this).
These weren’t some unknown people caught in the news with tawdry headlines, they were people I have known and liked (Mr. Fourth notwithstanding), people I care about. I felt for their pain and shame and humiliation.
Above all, I felt incredibly sad for the children involved: six innocent children, undeserving of the grievous pain and embarrassment served on them. Their lives upended, torn apart, because of the actions of the people they loved most.
None of them live there anymore, they’ve all moved away.
This isn’t the sort of news that you hear once and forget. It remains tucked in the back of your mind, periodically coming out whenever you are reminded of someone involved. I especially think of the children from time to time, wonder how they are doing, whether they are coping.
In the year before we moved (and so a little more than a year before decisions were taken that irrevocably propelled them all down a path that I daresay each regrets), my next door neighbor was almost killed in a freak accident when another woman ran a red light at high speed. Miraculously my neighbor was barely injured.
We didn’t usually hang out together much, but I remember her ringing my doorbell one day, eager to take a walk and talk about the accident. She was shaken, a jumble of conflicting thoughts and emotions. She was still stiff and sore and dazed in the way only a person who has truly cheated death can be. She expressed concern for the other driver, critically injured and near death in a nearby hospital.
Above all else, I remember her being immensely grateful: for having survived, for being given another chance at life, for more time with her husband and children.
How could twelve+ months have changed everything so much?
It’s not as if this sort of thing doesn’t happen everywhere, because it does.
It happens whether you spend your life as a global nomad, serially wandering from one exotic locale (or hellhole, depending on your perspective) to the next. It also happens, in the case of my former neighbors, when you stay put all your adult life.
Expat life is rife with stories of wayward spouses, marriages cracking under the strains of constantly moving and living in different cultures. My mind immediately goes to the softspoken woman whose husband chose to dump her by moving on to his next assignment without her or their daughter, then sealed the deal by moving in with a young woman half his age.
Or to the family that was here one day and suddenly gone, repatriated when the marriage collapsed and the wife and children no longer had visas. Or a particularly messy breakup played out publicly in the halls and grounds of one of the local international schools.
This morning, as I occasionally do, I popped online to check out the local newspaper from where we used to live. Headlines exploded amid allegations of potential wrongdoing in the workplace.
Another neighbor (seems the neighborhood was such a hotbed of activity, who knew?), having dumped his wife and mother of his children sometime after we had moved, now forced to resign his prominent position and under investigation for alledged improprieties regarding work-related travel with his well-known girlfriend.
Another household torn apart, four more children waking up to the latest in what has likely already been a series of emotionally painful and now highly embarrassing developments.
So many adults who lost sight of gratitude. So many children, vulnerable, struggling to make sense of their world, hoping for the pain to ease, in desperate need of emotional resilience.
Emotional resilience is more than simply surviving whatever life throws at you: it also includes maintaining or returning to a healthy, positive view of oneself, during or after the turmoil.
I can only hope that these children (the adults too, for that matter) find their way back, sooner rather than later.