In the past year of the pandemic, more people than ever have come face to face with how unexpected life can be. No one expected the lockdowns. No one expected the restrictions. No one expected their livelihoods to be threatened or dissolved completely because of the harsh realities of the actions that needed to be taken to protect as many people as possible. Now more than ever did it solidify for me that one of the greatest lessons I have learned is that life can change in a matter of seconds. It takes one moment, one minute millisecond, for your entire world to change.
This reality is quite harsh, but now more apparent to many than pre-pandemic. The magnitude of this reality is only clear if you’ve undergone that complete shift – that complete overhaul of what you expected from your life based on its current trajectory and how that future will never be, or rather can never be, after that one moment. The latter being because of life circumstances preventing that possibility or because your perspective of the world so gravely changes from that one moment that you could never return to seeing the world with the same lens as you did before.
For those infected by Covid-19, it could be the moment you coughed and suddenly couldn’t breathe – landing you in the hospital in a near-death state. For those who had small businesses, it could be the moment you received the federal update that all non-essential facilities would no longer be open, realizing that you wouldn’t make rent that month. Pre-pandemic, it may have been the day you encountered a life-threatening accident or incident, or when you found out that the person you trusted – parent or significant other – was defrauding you for longer and more deeply than you’d like to admit. In these moments, one of two things definitely crossed your mind – will I survive until tomorrow and what is my life going to be like if I do survive.
There is nothing more humbling than these life-altering moments because they force you to think about who you actually are and what you actually want from life. They force you to feel and let those feelings guide you. It is in these moments that the facade of what we are expected to do, expected to feel, expected to mark as our life trajectory just completely fades away. When that happens, you have only yourself to rely upon to find the answers to those questions. You are left to reconcile with what is within you – within the core of your being – that remains, and what it is directing you towards. You can envision this feeling as whatever you want – your conscience, a voice, a religious entity – whatever aligns to your perspective of the world, but at the end of the day it is the only thing that isn’t guiding you based on what society or the external entities expect of you.
The moment you begin to wonder “what will people think” or “what am I supposed to do”, you are placing external pressures on your internal guidance. The beauty of life-altering moments is that the lens of those expectations and pressures is removed. That lens is removed and you can finally see that life truly is what you make it or make of it. You, as the sole individual you were brought into this world as, have the ability to decide the next choice and the perspective you want to take. If life has changed once, it can change again, and again for an infinite number of times – that choice is not in your hands. The choice that is in your hands is what you do with your life so that you are fulfilled, so that even if life flips again, you know your direction or your path, and you know that you can always start again because you know your life’s value at it’s core.
After that life-altering moment, if you are alive and have the ability to think from your mind and feel from your heart, then you have the ability to define and rebuild your life, irrespective of where you’ve landed. This is not to say it is easy, or that the life-alteration does not come with the burden and baggage of trauma and healing. It does, and it’s not lightweight either. The fact of the matter is that it can take a tremendous toll on you and your mental health, and it will result in impacts to most, if not all, aspects of your life (hence the term life-altering…).
What one must come to terms with is that no one or no entity outside of yourself will ever know the magnitude of what you experienced. You and you alone experienced that moment in the manner that you did because of what you had experienced in and perceived of this world up until that moment. No friend, no therapist, no family, or no significant other will or can ever know exactly what you experienced. And anyone who does not experience that moment the way that you did, has no authority over how you respond to it, how you move on from it, or how you make decisions after it. If that is not the clarity you need that you and you alone can decide your life outside of externally driven circumstances, then what will be? At what point do you acknowledge that this life is yours and you are allowed to choose how you live it? At what point do you accept that you are allowed to build your life the way you want to, and you are allowed to remove anyone that does not accept that? That point is whenever you choose it, but it is most apparent in these moments where it is blatantly a life of your own.
Your friend, your therapist, your family, or your significant other will not experience your illness. They will not be the ones who are without money if your business fails. They will not be the ones who are paralyzed after an accident (unless impacted peripherally by it). They will not be the ones who are single or theoretically-orphaned by the broken trust or abuse. They could be additionally impacted if you are the breadwinner or if they are saddened by your pain, but they will never and can never be the ones whose life-altered in the way yours did because that moment happened to you. When the hospitals are in lockdown, only you are admitted for treatment. When rent is due, only your name will be on the eviction or collections notices as the sole individual responsible for the business loss and inability to pay. If you died from any of these scenarios, whether by external factors or by suicide for the pressure and toll it took on you, only you would be missing from this world and only your name would on that obituary. So when only you are responsible and even society isolates you in these scenarios, why would you live your life based on what all of these periphery individuals think of your life?
Learning this lesson can feel like a curse in the moment, but it is a gift once you survive it. The moment feels like your whole existence is irrelevant and makes you question “why me” and “for what purpose”, but it is only in surviving through the moment and taking one step at a time to rebuild based on what is true to you and your core being that you realize how beautiful life can be. You realize how free and peaceful life is when you remove all the expectations of other individuals and society, and truly live life the way you want to. The most beautiful part is that people and a society that accepts you and the life you choose will find you. The beauty of that is the clarity that you are born into this world with the life and people you are granted, but you have a choice to live within those means and with that society, or you can define your life on your own. Making the choice instead of accepting it is as it is made for you is true bliss.
So whether you have faced such life-altering moments or you are faced with the expectations of the people and society that surrounds you, I want you to remember that you are solely responsible for your life. You can make the choice to live it on your terms. You just have to be prepared and well-founded in the core of who you are to have the strength to undertake the losses that will come with. You will lose people. You will lose community. But you will gain yourself and the beauty that is life.
Life is what you make it
That is what they say
You don’t realize it’s truth
Until it’s forced upon you one day
Your life is yours
No one lives it like you do
So choose your way now
Or live it like they want you to
– Akiti –