The sky at dawn—so much lovelier with clouds.
Likewise, the beach—so much more interesting after storms.
The metaphors that these observations suggest to me sometimes seem trite, even reductive, on the surface. Clichés, song lyrics and memes abound: Every cloud has a silver lining; what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger; after a storm comes a calm. (Don’t try telling that to the folks in Panama City—yet.)
Still, I see it every morning—the sky at dawn really is lovelier with clouds. The beach truly is more interesting after storms. And despite the fact that bright sunny days and tranquil seas are the metaphors we’ve all come to associate with happiness, I’m learning that it truly is the inclement weather that enriches my life and inspires me to become a better human. And it’s not just because stormy days make me appreciate the sunny ones. No, I think I’m on the verge of learning to appreciate the storms themselves.
Of course, this has almost always been an after-the-fact kind of epiphany. I can see those silver linings quite clearly retrospectively: how the hardest times in my life have indeed made me stronger (didn’t kill me), and having survived, I have indeed, felt the relief of that post-storm calm. But I’ve been missing something here. Maybe I’ve been missing the whole point. I’m thinking that the point shouldn’t be to white-knuckle my way through challenges in hopes that I’ll be able to look back one day and smugly declare myself to be improved. Ha! No, I want to appreciate the process in real time, while it is happening—even if it’s hard, or sad or makes no sense to me at all in the moment. I don’t think that I have to enjoy something to appreciate it, to accept it, to value the experience even if it’s uncomfortable.
Because I have recently made a very important realization: I will never, ever, as long as I am breathing, be without “problems.” (And even after that, the not-breathing thing might initially seem problematic.) And, no, I’m not a dismal Debbie Downer who manufactures trouble at every turn; I’m actually a pretty optimistic person. But I am a human person, and human persons need problems. We as a species are biologically programmed to strive and evolve. And for that we need problems to solve. We’ve been doing it all our lives. You may not remember the “problem” of the birth canal, but it really was pretty narrow, given the size of your head.
But here’s the catch—and the “silver lining” in this cumulonimbus cloud of woe: I can (and should) choose my problems prudently, and go about “solving” them with an eye toward upgrading them to “better problems.”
I recently read a hilariously insightful book by a guy named Mark Manson entitled—The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F#*! It truly revolutionized my way of thinking about the challenges I face in life—whether they are foisted upon me by “cruel fate,” or are (more often) self-imposed.
Manson’s title is intentionally misleading I think. He doesn’t condone apathy or callous indifference, but he does make a very strong case for being way more selective about where you give your—um, attention. A good portion of the book is devoted to helping his reader define healthy values worthy of our—um, attention—and how to deep-six all the rest. This weeding out of useless or unhealthy ideals has been very freeing for me. So many of my “problems” simply ceased to vex me once I admitted that the values underlying my angst were not the ones I would consciously choose for myself were I consciously choosing. (For example: vanity, being “right,” popularity—to name just a few.)
I want to start now to consciously choose.
Manson says, “Problems never stop; they merely get exchanged and/or upgraded…To be happy we need something to solve. Happiness is therefore a form of action…”
More than six years ago Ted and I traded up. We had a problem. We drank too much. This was a big problem that required big action. We quit. Together. On the same day. But then there were all of these new problems—how to have a social life without our favorite social lubricant, how to not eat Oreos for breakfast every day, how to fall asleep naturally. We’ve solved all of those problems, but now…
Well, now—and this is a little embarrassing to admit—now this very day, my sky is blue and clear, and my Gulf is as calm as a glacial lake, both literally and figuratively. I am experiencing no major life crises or assaults. All is well. And yet I, just 20 minutes ago, started down that dark spiral staircase of obsessive worry about something which I have no control over.
But I stopped myself on the first landing. I turned around and got back to work on the “problem” of writing this story and working on the first draft of my new book. I had already identified that other worry as not worthy of giving a @#!* about, because it was associated with an unhealthy value (which, if you must know is: to be loved and approved of by all people in all ways at all times. Ha!)
Writing is hard. Every paragraph is a “problem” that must be solved, and sometimes I’d rather pick at another scab. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I make something up to facilitate my procrastination.
Other times, I do the work, even when it’s hard.
I trade one “problem” for a “better” one, by defining the values that I consciously want to adhere to in my life and in my work. I am made better by those choices, by those inevitable struggles.
So here’s my aha!: If I am, like this beach at dawn, made lovelier by the clouds and more interesting by the storms, why not learn to appreciate it all in real time, instead of only retrospectively?
What if, the next time life gets rough, and the inevitable storms blow through—”when sorrows like sea billows roll”—what if when I look out over that churning sea, I can honestly say, if only to myself, “It is well, it is well with my soul…”
And within three hours of typing that last line, some very scary storm clouds began to coalesce on my metaphorical horizon. I get to practice what I preach. And I’m okay with that.
Follow me on Instagram or Facebook (@sharladawnstoryteller) for images and musings from the beach at dawn. Also, pick up a copy of Island Times from any of a dozen or more Pensacola Beach shops and restaurants—enjoy my column—Sharla Dawn at Dawn.
“Vices” is now available on Kindle and other eReaders for just 5.99. You even have the option of “gifting” the digital version by clicking the “Give as a Gift” on Amazon.com and entering the email address of the recipient. Of course, the paper version (still my preference) is available at the buy-three-get-one-free rate from this website (Shop).
Books are also available from all these gracious local retailers:
At the beach:
69 Via DeLuna Dr.
Pensacola Beach, FL 32561
In Gulf Breeze:
832 Gulf Breeze Parkway
(Publix shopping center)
Gulf Breeze, FL 32561
In East Hill:
1208 N. 12th Ave.
Pensacola, FL 32503
(at the front register)
5109 Bayou Blvd.
Pensacola, FL 32503
89 Central Square
Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32549
Page and Palette
32 S. Secton Street
Fairhope, AL 36532