A ’90s Television Show Taught Me an Important Life Lesson
“Life’s not gonna go the way you figured.”
I’m 31 years old, and I feel pretty privileged to only just be figuring this one out. I heard this gem while watching “Third Watch,” a ’90s emergency services drama featuring ridiculously good looking New York firemen, cops and paramedics.
During the episode the characters sat and talked about the moment when this revelation had dawned on them — that life wasn’t a story written for them. That it wouldn’t always go the way they had imagined. That they weren’t necessarily the protagonists.
I’ve had sad and hard things happen in my life. Break ups. Family issues. Grandparents dying. Friends in car accidents. While these events were all hard, when they were over and the grief process had been worked through, I was still me, and my life was relatively similar to how it had been before the event. My options for the future were unchanged and while it might have taken a while to work through the emotions attached, I knew my life could still be the way I envisioned it.
I didn’t expect a ’90s TV show to give me pause to reflect, but hearing a character say this made me realize everyone does have that point. Some people will go through most of their life without realizing this, and others will be unlucky enough to discover it at an age where they should be innocent to the realities of the world.
I’ve led a fairly sheltered life. I have a loving family. I’ve never wanted for anything and have had food, a warm home, a good education and a future full of possibilities open to me. I have fantastic friends and have had some great relationships.
But at 30, my eyes were opened, and I discovered that while we make our own choices and can plan as much as we like, life has a way of turning our best laid plan on its head. Life doesn’t care about your career goals or plans to have however many kids. Things happen. People get sick. People die. And while we can plan, we can’t control everything. Anyone who thinks they can is in for a rude awakening.
It’s not that I thought I could control my life. It’s just that I never thought that certain things wouldn’t eventuate for me. I thought I would get married and have a couple of kids. I imagined having a long career in either writing or teaching and maybe writing a book one day. I saw myself living to an old age, and when I pictured that, I saw my friends and family living alongside me.
I didn’t picture being a solo mum with a special needs child. I didn’t picture hospital stays and operations and a realization that my daughter’s life would not follow the same path as mine. I certainly didn’t imagine that if I did write a book, my daughter would be the inspiration.
But I’ve realized we can’t ever expect that ideal life. There is no ideal. We can’t expect anything. I say this not in defeat, but in acceptance. In the last few months I’ve seen a few good friends get worrying medical news that could change the course of their lives. I’ve watched other friends go through emotionally crippling divorces and others have their parents die too soon from cancer. Adulthood is hard. And at a certain point, just like the “Third Watch” characters, we realize that life isn’t a story written for us.
Then I see the blissfully unaware who have managed to scrape through so far unscathed. While it’s easy to think they’re the lucky ones, I’ve come to realize everyone has their tough times. No one is untouchable. Some are just able to get through more years before they figure it out.
I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. I know life’s not done with me yet. I’ve got through one hurdle, but there will be others. Some will be related to the Peanut, but many will not. But having experienced this jolt in my best laid plans, I feel like I’m more prepared to appreciate what I’ve got. It sounds cliché, but I feel like I can find more joy in the little things.
I always thought that seemed like a misnomer. I thought the people who said they could appreciate the little things did so because they didn’t have the excitement of the big things. They made themselves feel better by finding enjoyment in the little things. They had to. Otherwise life would be miserable.
But I was wrong.
Since the Peanut has been back with me I find myself looking at the world differently. I see a beautiful view and just feel awestruck. I watch the Peanut smile and feel a warmth and happiness I haven’t experienced before. It’s not that I see that view or that smile and think, “This is as good as it gets; I better enjoy it.” It’s that suddenly those things are not small things anymore. There are no small things.
Life is not about waiting for the big things to happen. We don’t know how our lives are going to pan out, and only the most fortunate will win the lottery and never have tragedy or grief befall them. I don’t think that’s even possible unless you live your life without loving anyone or anything.
I know these revelations are not new or revolutionary. Countless people must have had the same realizations that I’m having after life-changing events. I guess what I’m feeling most fortunate about is that instead of feeling bitter that life isn’t what I thought it would be, I just feel thankful for what it is.
I may not have the picture I imagined in my head growing up, but I have a lot. And I’m lucky.
This post originally appeared on The One in a Million Baby.