When Life Gives You Grapefruit

I have this vivid memory in elementary school of what now seems to be both a profound and foolish thought for a child to have. See, I was one of those kids that would spend most of their time in the library, surrounded by books. I did this both because I loved reading and because the other kids were cruel. I was teased, as I now think most of us were, and i took refuge within the muted orange room that was my elementary school library.

One day, after a particularly traumatic episode where the class bully had made me the object of unwanted attention once more, I thought, “This is hard now. But that’s okay. Paying now means life will be easier later.” I don’t know where I would’ve learned it from, but this was my childhood version of karma. I thought that suffering at the hands and words of my peers as a child would prevent me from pain later on.

Junior high crushed that idea real quick.  The teasing continued, this time exacerbated by the acne and the awkwardness that I now associate with that age. I dug deeper into my books, with a pretty lengthy stay in fantasy and mystery genres. I developed an even stronger relationship with literature as a safety net that shielded me from the complex brokenness in the world around me.

15 years or so now past my young mind’s idea of karma, my idea about life challenges has grown a little more complex. No longer do I believe that one can “pay dues” to avoid pain. The closest thing to karma is likely me believing that by working hard and treating people well, you can develop strong relationships that can in turn benefit you in the long run. But that has a whole lot less to do with karma and a whole lot more to do with intentionally working to do good in the world because it’s the right thing to do, not because it will save you from some later life struggle.

Now, I try to keep in mind C.S. Lewis’ quote, “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind”, which I think is a far better perspective to hold. My idea about life struggles sounds like this: Life is hard. Everyone has struggles. Every one of us has our own challenges and obstacles to face. Some of them are far more difficult than I could ever imagine, but we each have our own burdens to overcome. Having overcome burdens in the past does not mean we won’t have them in the present or the future. Past burdens may prepare us to handle future “opportunities for growth” as they come, but they will not keep these opportunities from coming. 

I still turn to books for comfort, inspiration, and escape. I still see myself as an awkward pre-teen with acne scars whose shyness can’t be overcome and about whom the children can’t stop snickering. I’ve got a position now where I have to be social and talk to people. I can’t just hide in the corner of a dearly loved building. I’ve got to take what life has given me, and appreciate its challenges as blessings and opportunities to grow.

For all of this, It’s not about making lemons into lemonade. Truly that cliche needs to be retired. It’s more about the fact that in life, we are going to encounter situations that we never thought we could handle but discover that we must. It’s more like a grapefruit.  We sprinkle a little sugar on top, find joy where we can, and dig in for an experience that is both bitter and sweet.