Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine! As much as we may hate to acknowledge it, this familiar bumper sticker reflects the truth. The only thing constant in life is change.
Call it progress or growth. It doesn’t help. Progress is fine, and growth has my full support. But I hate change. Change is tough. It’s painful and frightening.
Why? Because we love and crave familiarity and predictability. When we find something that gives us comfort, pleasure, or security, we attach ourselves like ticks on a dog. Our hope is to keep it forever, or longer, if possible.
But life won’t allow it. Everything changes. And every change – large or small, dramatic or subtle – forces us to give up what is familiar and valued.
This is a loss. Loss from change has many faces. We can lose control, comfort, status, security, freedom, choice, function, acceptance, connection, pleasure, and love.
To resist change, strenuously is natural and understandable. We dig in our heels and refuse to budge.
Or we find something or someone to blame and then attack the “cause” of our distress. Whenever possible, we ignore the change.
None of these works. Change continues, no matter what we think of it. It crashes our party like an uninvited guest. Resisting it only increases suffering.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We have a resource for our fears and pain, a resource that can put us back in control of our destinies. All we have to do is remember to use it.
What is the resource? Humor.
Perhaps this strikes you as frivolous. I don’t blame you for having so little respect for humor. I once felt the same way. But before you dismiss this idea, let me tell you how I learned differently.
Less than a month after the persistent pain in her right leg was diagnosed as a tumor called sarcoma, 15-year-old Lisa sought my help.
Her oncologist told her she had 18 months to live; she informed me that she had other plans.
Our work together spanned more than five years until her death at age twenty.
Those years were filled with incredible moments for Lisa: high school graduation, college, romance, marriage, a honeymoon in Hawaii, and lots of laughter.
Of the many things that Lisa taught me, the most important was to laugh during serious moments.
I always had “approved” of humor, but only in its place and time, after all, responsibilities had been met.
Lisa believed that if we waited for my criteria to be satisfied, we might never laugh. She thought laughter’s place was everywhere, and its time, any time.
In a term paper, Lisa wrote: “A sense of humor goes beyond the ability to tell an amusing anecdote and includes a capacity to see the positive aspects of otherwise adverse situations. I use my own sense of humor to help me remain sane through the difficult times in my battle with cancer.”
Lisa was not laughing away fears and burdens. Nor was she making light of a painful experience or avoiding serious issues. Her cancer was real and serious.
Instead, using humor as her chief resource, this remarkable young lady chose to live the years she was given by transcending her circumstances.
Though it may seem a bit mystical, transcendence is the right word. Lisa literally rose above her fear and pain.
Transcendence differs from avoidance. In avoidance, we ignore, deny, or skirt the unwanted experience.
In transcending it, we acknowledge fear and pain but maintain a perspective that prevents immobilization.
If you are thinking Lisa got cheated out of life, that’s because you did not know her. She packed more living into her twenty years than most of us manage in four times that long.
Her secret was that she understood her sense of humor – what it was and what it was for.
We are all like Lisa. You may not be facing cancer, but if you are going through an uninvited change in your life or suffering a loss that is beyond your control, you are up against the same forces.
Nobody asked Lisa if she was agreeable to a cancer diagnosis. No one worked out a negotiated settlement or a transition plan for her.
Her losses could not be resolved or compensated. She had to transcend them or become mired in resentment, self-pity, and despair.
Recent national events have touched us all with overwhelming loss. If we are to recover, we must learn to rise above our lingering fear and pain.
What worked for Lisa will work for any of us. We can transcend fear and sustain a quality of life never deemed possible in the face of relentless change.
It only requires learning to appreciate, respect, and trust humor as she did.
No matter how deep the pain or how devastating the loss, when we are willing to rely on the power of humor, nothing can defeat us.