Julia has struggled with mental illness and difficult experiences, and wants to share how she keeps a positive outlook despite it all.
How can difficult experiences be beneficial?
During the average 79 years that a human will have to face in this world, it is known that they will undergo some kind of trial; suffering and existence come as a packaged deal. Most human beings who have experienced enough of this life would argue that it is filled with darkness. Many claim that it is often nothing but torture, that we go through so much and gain so little. These thoughts are not distant from the truth. However, a change in perspective might lead one to realize that the difficult experiences featured in a human life can be beneficial.
When the idea of finding light in darkness crosses my mind, I am brought back to the stench of saltwater and the feeling of a raging summer sun scraping my back. Not too long ago I happened to be vacationing at Virginia Beach with my mom and my two younger brothers. We were staying with two of my mom’s high school friends and their children and decided it would only be appropriate to spend the day at the beach, as the day was hot and perfectly conditioned for such an activity. Sweet-smelling and sticky sunscreen was ritualistically slathered onto the body of every young child by their mothers, while the older children were held accountable to guard their skin independently. The mothers tossed together umbrellas and lounging towels and carefully packed the correct supplies into the trunk of each car. Water bottles, granola bars, and extra changes of clothes were nothing but necessities. Eventually the vehicles were jam-packed with essentials and excitement.
Following our arrival, my youngest brother was off entertaining the children while my other brother and I agreed to explore the shoreline to collect some seashells. We could feel our skin gradually growing redder as we strolled, our necks craned underneath the burning blue sky in the act of searching. Our eyes scanned all the places that our footprints touched in dual efforts to find the perfect shell. Nearly holographic shards of abalone and Ponderous Arks reeled in our gazes with a natural hook, line, and sinker. Warmly-colored Ribbed Cantharus and juvenile Fighting Conch shards had the same effects, despite the fact that most of our findings were in pieces. Clams, cockles, and limpets were woven between grains of sand where the waves kissed the shore. We were playing a game of Minesweeper, my brother and I, and we were approaching a point of mastery to every algorithm and every technique available. The slowly-tearing paper bag we were carrying was soon splitting at the seams, filled to the brim with anything we dubbed even remotely beautiful. There was one seashell in particular, however, that stood out from the rest.
We thought we had reached enlightenment in the art of shell-collecting. A beautiful Broad Paper Cockle found its way into my hands. Of course, we had already obtained an abundance of cockles, but this one was special: large, colorful, and untouched. It was a natural depiction of Sedona’s famed red rocks- of some sedimentary formation colored as a southwestern sunset- trapped in a single shell the size of my palm. It was undisputedly flawless; its ridges were clean, not a chip nor a scratch in sight. Its polished finish made it qualified for a place on the shelves in one of the souvenir shops downtown. Had this shell ever been touched by mankind?
“Michael, look at this!” I exclaimed to my brother excitedly, pulling the treasure out of the sand and dusting it off with my fingers.
“Oh wow,” my brother’s jaw scraped the floor. “That’s beautiful.”
“Isn’t it?” I agreed.
“Here, let me wash it off.” Michael offered, taking the cockle and making his way towards the water. I watched him cautiously wade deeper and deeper until his ankles were hidden in that cool cobalt substance. The icy fingers of the breeze toyed with my hair and the hissing laughter of the waves sprayed my glasses with saltwater. My vision was peeking through strands of brown hair and scattered droplets, but there was just enough clarity to allow me to witness my brother drop the shell.
I was not angry at my younger brother (who was simply trying to be helpful), but the loss of that perfect seashell was certainly disappointing to say the least. In the few moments I had spent with my finding, I envisioned taking it back home to allow eventual reminiscence to this lovely vacation. Time would pass after my return to Santa Rosa and I would find it on a shelf somewhere in my bedroom behind a book, or crammed in a drawer underneath old receipts, loose change, and incense packages. I would pick it up, trace the smooth carnelian ridges, and recollect everything I had experienced at Virginia Beach and beyond with a grin. It would have served as a token, a marker of the places I had been, the people I had met, and the experiences I would not forget for years to come. My fantasies vaporized once the shell hit the water with a splash.
My brother, kindly ashamed and apologetic, made the suggestion that we should attempt to search for it. We both unknowingly agreed that it would be a difficult if not impossible task, but the two of us were overcome with an ambitious desire to succeed.
The exact amount of time we donated towards searching for our shell is unclear, but I am sure of the fact that it took up the majority of the time our group had spent at the beach. It was a hazy and monotonous act that seemed to stretch out farther than it should have; it was a tedious, mind-numbing work. We assigned ourselves jobs without thinking. Once the waves would run away from the shore again, Michael would reach down, use both hands, and scoop up whatever he could grasp. I would then sift through that pile of sand, stones, shells, and skeletons and was reminded of childhood trips to Sacramento spent panning for gold. Except this time, I was keeping an eye out for a different kind of treasure.
It was in the act of searching for what I had lost that I came across something even greater.
I picked up that juvenile Fighting Conch the same way I would pick up a hundred dollar bill: curiously cautious yet erratically ecstatic. My pruned fingertips turned it over and over again as I lifted it up for a closer examination. It was roughly the size of a Jolly Rancher, and not as large as my valued Broad Paper Cockle but nowhere near as bland. We no longer cared about our previous discovery, for it was nothing compared to this. Slick with serpentine coils and painted with shades of caramel and peach, this was the ultimate discovery; this was enlightenment.
My brother continued with his shell-searching but I moved onto soul-searching. I stood there with my toes buried in the waves, staring at the horizon that was staring right back. It was a view of Elysian qualities. Those waves, those indecisive yet rhythmic waves, forever reaching for something they will never quite obtain. The distant cicadas continued to hum, the hovering gulls continued to sing, and the sea continued to lull the world to peace. Everything was continuing. I realized then that no matter what happens the world will keep on spinning. It will keep on revolving around its tilted axis, stopping for nothing at all.
The rain will not stop to avoid your parade. The waves do not pull away to reveal a lost shell. The world does not pause for anyone or anything. It will just simply keep going, whether we like it or not.
79 years may seem like an extensive stretch of time, but time is merely a mirage and it will slip through one’s fingers like hot sand; a lifetime, as long as it appears to be, is ultimately very short. Things will continue to grow and flourish and progress, and it is up to us to decide if we will follow the pattern of our surroundings and move forward in the time that we are given. But how does one do so?
It is all a matter of perspective. Learning to recognize the good that can come out of any situation is the key to progression and making the most of this life. When my brother and I lost the shell, we could have just moped about our loss and given up. But instead, we kept looking. We pressed forward and in return we ended up finding something even greater. I do not miss the Broad Paper Cockle. I am slowly forgetting that Sedona-colored masterpiece. Instead of letting myself get caught up over something out of my control, I am seeing the situation through a positive lens. The loss of the original shell only led me to an even greater gain.
Learning to master the art of finding light in darkness is not always easy but it is necessary. It is necessary for growth, necessary for happiness, necessary to keep up with the rest of the universe without getting lost.
The world spins madly on and I have chosen not to fall behind, I thought as I stood on that East Coast shoreline, seashell in hand. I have taught myself to find light.
© 2020 Julia Rosemary Turk
OLUSEGUN from NIGERIA on October 31, 2020:
As we grow in learning to isolate light from darkness, we shall be able to feel the world in a new perspective. Good work.