Muddling Nobly, Happily and with a Sense of Purpose Through Life’s Unexpected Twists & Turns
It is common for most of us to experience periodic painful events over the course of our lives.
I am going through such a time in my life, an unfortunate and deeply sad life event which I never expected to experience.
Like many unexpected and unhappy developments, it is often difficult to maintain perspective when riding the associated emotional rollercoaster.
In an ongoing search for perspective, Dean Barnett’s A Beautiful Muddle from last Christmas continues to resonate as a particularly inspirational source of guidance:
I am told that one of the great burdens of being married to me is having to tolerate my “singing,” especially while stuck in close proximity to my off key bass in a moving automobile. This weight is especially keen for Mrs. Soxblog on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day when we journey up to New Hampshire to see my in-laws. For an hour in each direction, I happily “sing” along with the Christmas tunes I’ve come to know and love.
My favorite is the “downbeat” version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” a song that has acquired a special resonance for a lot of people in recent years. Originally, the last verse went like this:
Someday soon we all will be together
If the fates allow.
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.
That’s how Judy Garland sang it in the 1944 movie, “Meet Me in St. Louis.” For a war exhausted nation in which virtually every family had to endure being separated from a loved one, the idea of “muddling through” until everyone could once again be together was a powerfully poignant one.
The Judy Garland version isn’t the one that you hear most often on the radio, though. Frank Sinatra re-cut the song in the 1950’s, and Frank wasn’t exactly the muddle-through type…The Sinatra version transformed the song into a much less somber affair. Frank’s last verse went like this:
Through the years
We all will be together,
If the Fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.
And have yourself A merry little Christmas now.
In Frank’s version, the sense of separation so keenly felt in the original version sleeps with the fishes…
Me, I’ve long favored the Garland version, but not because it’s sad. I find it inspiring. I also find it true.
I try not to write about my health except when I truly have something to say. This is one of those times. As most of the readers of this site know, I’m a 39 year-old man with Cystic Fibrosis. 39 is old for someone with CF. In many ways I’ve been lucky, and sitting here today I can honestly tell you I feel lucky. Lucky people don’t always know that they’re blessed. I do. I have a life filled with people I love, and I just spent the Holidays with them. Does it get better than that?
For me, actually it does. Five years ago, it didn’t look like I’d be here today. But I am, and not only am I rapidly gaining on 40 there’s even a realistic chance I’ll see 50. Hell, there’s even a possibility I’ll see 60…
None of which is to say it’s all been kicks and giggles. I began my 30’s as a guy who could run 5 miles in 35 minutes and could get by on 5 hours of sleep a day. Now I sleep about 11 hours a day, and make a sourpuss face whenever I’m confronted with a flight of stairs or a lengthy walk across a parking lot.
And that’s where “muddling through” comes in. Regardless of who you are, at some point life plays some rotten tricks on you. Some people get terrible blows from fate; some people make their own bad luck. But everyone at some point realizes that life is at times a slog, and sometimes a cruel one.
But we “muddle through.” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become ever more convinced that one of the keys to happiness is enjoying the “muddling,” and being cognizant of your blessings while doing so.
Some people just can’t do that. The muddling makes them bitter and angry; they enter a spiral of self-pity…
Life is one big muddle. Sometimes you have to muddle more, sometimes you have to muddle less, but for all of us “muddling through” is the natural state of things. Luckily, while we muddle, we can surround ourselves with things we cherish. We can muddle nobly, happily and with a sense of purpose. We can choose to love and allow ourselves to be loved as we muddle.
Ultimately, if you want it to be and let it be, it’s a beautiful muddle indeed.
As to guidance on how to muddle with a sense of purpose, these Old Testament words from Micah 6:8 – a favorite of mine for over 30 years – offer advice about how to live a more noble life:
He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
And, as the muddling is sometimes particularly painful, these words from Isaiah 41:10 suggest that God will be there even during the toughest times, providing a strength which allows us to retain the hope necessary to carry on:
Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
The field of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) offers a perspective on the clinical benefits which can be derived by allowing ourselves to think differently as we “muddle through” what are otherwise painful moments:
…Cognitive-behavioral therapy is based on the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not external things, like people, situations, and events. The benefit of this fact is that we can change the way we think to feel/act better even if the situation does not change…CBT therapists believe that the clients change because they learn how to think differently and they act on that learning. Therefore, CBT therapists focus on teaching rational self-counseling skills…
Building on that is yet another valuable lesson, which only becomes apparent with the passage of time spent “muddling through” and is reflected in these words from Ben Johnson:
He knows not his own strength that has not met adversity.
Finally, muddling happily truly is made possible by being cognizant of the blessings of having many dear family members and friends who have been kind enough to draw closer during these times. It is a development which has allowed some previously remote relationships to be renewed while simultaneously strengthening the bonds of other existing ones to unprecedented levels of closeness. These outcomes remind each of us – if we are open to it – that good can arise out of the ashes when least expected and what matters most in life is being able both to give love to and receive love from others. And, most poignantly of all, I am particularly blessed to be muddling alongside and together with 3 very special young people whom I love and cherish more deeply than words could ever express.