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About this blog: I was born and raised in Palo Alto, and graduated from Palo Alto High in 2013. For the lion's share of that time, I had a starry-eyed adoration for my hometown, and all its perks: top-notch schools, safe neighborhoods, and a boomi...  (More)

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Reader Guest Post: Life's Map

Uploaded: Apr 16, 2018
This entry comes from a reader of the blog, who has kindly and compassionately written the following piece about her own experience with losing a loved one. The reader has created this piece as a sort of all-purpose resource, for those who find themselves enduring that most human of trials. As other readers inevitably pass through similar battles -- whether with family, friends, or their own selves -- this work might help shed light on a messy and opaque human condition. Through compassion, generous love, and yes, our life maps, we endure. We interpret and engage with suffering; it is what humans have done since first realizing our collective and individual fragility, and it is what we will continue doing even as science and medicine transform health and illness as we know them. I hope readers of this blog will find healing wisdom in the words of this reader, as I certainly have. I hope they will be moved to, through reflective and self-giving love, sit with that messy humanness amidst that fact of human suffering.

Life’s Map

Life is like a map with many paths laid out before us. We start from home and explore
the surrounding landscape one path at a time. Each time we venture away, we learn
more and the landscape around us becomes richer and filled with detail. Some paths
are wide and smooth, taking us far. Others are narrow, rocky, and difficult to travel.
Sometimes there’s a great view at the end; sometimes just a bunch of hungry
mosquitoes and blisters on our feet. But no matter where we go, we always have
home to return to.

Home is our base. It is everything that is familiar to us; it is the place that anchors us.
On a map, we know where home is by the familiar landmarks that guide us. The
largest of these we can always see--no matter where we go--and that is how we orient
ourselves and find our way in life. No matter whether we are coming or going, we know
where we are and what direction to head, based upon those landmarks.

On each of our individual life maps, the major landmarks are our family members and
friends. We are never lost on our life journeys because we have our landmarks to
guide and anchor us.

So what happens when the landscape changes? What happens when one of our most
important reference points is removed? What happens when someone who has always
loved and anchored you, is gone? The map has changed. The landscape is new, and
it’s different. It’s unfamiliar and we don’t know how to navigate now without that
major, always there, always visible landmark in our lives.

So what now? How do we go forward?

Now, we turn on the light within us and use it to find our way. You see, we each have a
light within us, its brightness fed by all the little things that the people who love us
have embedded in our lives--that generosity, that putting others before ourselves, that
ability to see things from different perspectives, that joy of learning something new
every day, that peace in seeking God. Whatever the talent, attitude, perspective, or
trait it is that your loved one has gifted you, that is a light, and we shine that light on
the path in front of us and use it to find our way. We use that light to show others what
our loved one was like. We carry that light, and that light carries us.

We are travelling in unfamiliar territory right now because we are sad, disoriented, and
lost. But our lights shine a little brighter today because of what we have inside of us from the people we have lost and because we have lots of people around us to help us
find our way. So we are not as lost as we might think today. Our eyes just haven’t
quite adjusted to the dark, and we can’t quite see the light shining on the path before
us. But the light is there, and it will guide us, like it always has before.

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