Hannah’s Gift was written by Maria Housden, the story of her daughter Hannah, who was diagnosed with a kidney tumor as a toddler. I read it when it was published in 2002, and it has had a lasting influence on my life. It’s a short and worthy read, if you’re so inclined.
I encountered today’s title phrase for the first time in Hannah’s Gift. It was spoken to Maria by a pediatrician who was also the parent of a child with cancer. He was speaking to the challenge of making decisions as to treatment options and care in such a high stakes environment, where it may seem that each choice will be the one that results in your child surviving her illness, or dying. I can only imagine the pressure a parent would feel, and the imagining that there is, somewhere out there, a “right” answer, the choice that will ensure the desired outcome.
I made the best decision I could with the information available at the time. Wise words for all of us. I have found that when I trust this and work from this perspective, life gets easier. I may still not have my desired outcome, and I may need to revisit the original decision in light of new information, but I find it much easier to bring a curious rather than a blaming approach to the issue. Curious: “What worked, what didn’t, how can I learn from this? “Blaming: “Somebody (me or outside of me depending on your makeup) screwed up, they are a bad person and they are gonna pay”.
Curiosity allows for learning and growth, recognizes that sometimes honest mistakes occur, and that often there are more components to a problem than initially recognized. What if this is normal, that not everything is controllable or predictable and that unforeseen events and outcomes are not necessarily “terrible”? Curiosity looks at facts: What’s the weather outside? Sunny and 40 degrees F. Blame/shame finds fault with the fact, or the bearer of the fact: “Its too cold for golf, you ruined my day”. There’s a phrase around this, too: Don’t blame the thermometer for the temperature.
The temperature is the fact, the meaning or emotion you have around it is an opinion. You can make the best decision you can with that information. For me, 40 and sunny might mean a lovely morning for a walk, and that my light gloves and ear band will be useful. For someone else, their response could be “too cold for me, I’ll walk at noon”. Same fact, two different interpretations. What happens after that decision point is another story.
Maria Housden’s original opinion when Hannah got sick was that this was a horrible thing. On one level, it was. Very few parents will be cheerful when their child is gravely ill. As the title of her book suggest, she came to recognize that Hannah, even with her illness, was a huge gift in her life, providing the opportunity to learn and grow on a very deep level. Hannah’s illness and short life was life-changing for many, including me. Facts are important, and what we do with those facts may be even more important.
Words Along the Way: This is an intermittent series in which I will explore various phrases that have had meaning for me on my own journey through life.