On life's seesaw

BY WILLIAM MOYERS Modified: December 31, 2012 at 9:44 am •  Published: December 31, 2012
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The headline in my hometown newspaper drives my fingers on the keyboard this holiday week. It heralds: "A Search for Normalcy."

The headline, of course, is about people in Newtown, Conn., struggling to carry on with their lives even as their community buries the 26 victims (plus the shooter, who isn't a victim) of the school massacre. As if their challenge isn't already impossible for the rest of us to fathom, it is also the holidays. How do families celebrate the spirit of Hanukkah and Christmas and ring in the promise of a new year when nothing in their lives will ever be the same again?

I don't know. Not for a moment do I pretend to offer insight, much less counsel. Murder isn't in my life's experience. The death of my child isn't what I know.

But the headline and the story got me to wonder what "normalcy" looks like, how it feels and what's the point of finding it. And I answer my own questions with this: There is no such thing.

How could there be, to the millions of survivors of war? To the residents of the East Coast whose homes washed away in Superstorm Sandy? To my colleague at work who lost both of her breasts to cancer? To the elderly couple that discovered their life savings were stolen by Bernard Madoff, that insatiable swindler? To the kids whose dad was killed when his car skidded on the ice and hit a tree in the first snowstorm of the year in Minnesota?

Even to those of us whose wanton use of substances wrecked our lives, what is "normalcy" after we stop using and clean up the past?

That's the point: When bad things like murder or accidents or financial ruin or serious illness happen — and they do to all of us in one way, shape or form — whatever "normalcy" was, no longer is again in our lives.

Never. There is only how we embrace these difficult experiences to refine, restore and refocus our journeys, to take advantage of the opportunities and the challenges that are the inevitable mileposts marking the rest of what's ahead.

And here is where I borrow a perspective from P.J. Hickey, a 17-year-old senior student at the Newtown High School.

In today's story, Hickey says: "We're going to be able to comfort each other and try and help each other get through this, because that's the only way we're going to do it. Nobody can do this alone."

Homo sapiens are a species that knows how to rob, steal, wage war, enslave, hurt and kill, and our history on earth is pockmarked with the tragedies of what we've done to each other. The gunman in Newtown reminds us of this.

But our species is one that consciously, consistently and with remarkable clarity knows how to nurture, comfort, help and heal one another during times of intense loss and suffering.

That we do this in the herd of our togetherness — in recovery from addiction we know it as the "we" — probably makes us unique among all life forms on the planet. Hickey reminds us of this, too.

I suggest that life is never about a return to "normalcy." Rather, it is restoration of balance. In life's seesaw struggles, that's only possible when we aren't teetering on the totter all alone.

William Moyers is the vice president of public affairs and community relations for the Hazelden Foundation and the author of "Broken," his best-selling memoir. His new book, "Now What? An Insider's Guide to Addiction and Recovery," was published in October. Please send your questions to William Moyers at wmoyers@hazelden.org. To find out more about William Moyers and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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