My women's book club discussed Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister the other night. The storyline revolved around six women gathering to celebrate their friend Kate's recovery from cancer. To celebrate, Kate tells her friends that she's going to do something that's always terrified her: whitewater rafting in the Grand Canyon. She invites each of her friends to do something that's a real stretch for them, too—with the caveat that she, Kate, will choose for each of them. She knows them well enough to know what they'll find challenging—but what they can use for personal growth, too.
In the novel, one of the women told another about a woman who had gone through so much and who was "so strong, so compassionate." When that woman asked the one who had experienced so much difficulty how she could be how she was, that woman replied, "You can be broken, or broken open. That choice is yours."
Admittedly, there are some things in life we face that very nearly do break us. And we all know someone who really has been broken by life's trauma. We must not judge those for whom that's true. We can't know what their journey was like for them.
For the rest of us, however, that line rings so true—and we really can make a choice. Is the choice easy? Hardly. But after the dust of a difficult experience settles, we have the opportunity to ask: What might I learn from this experience? Chances are good that it might open us further to deeper wisdom, to compassion, to the inner strength that was always there within us but which we hadn't known we could tap into, and to who knows what else.