All is well

On my journey of personal (and parental) development these last five or so years, I have found myself often repeating phrases or mantras that bring comfort, contentment and understanding. Some have been common- cliched even- and some original, their meaning only meaningful to me. I love words and letters. I love to roll them around in my head.

From childhood through early adulthood, I used to be nervous all the time with worries big and small that caused frequent stomach aches and led me to create protective facades. I was reminded of this recently and realized that I don’t fret or make myself sick with worry anymore. Even as I face adult-sized, real-world challenges, this kind of self talk has made a world of difference for me. Words are powerful.

Years ago, when my twin son and daughter were babies and their older brother was a preschooler and I felt crazed much of the time, I printed out a little sign and taped it to the window over the changing table, where I spent what felt like hours each day. It said “This is only temporary, and we have a lovely life”. I would read it and then gaze out through the window over the beautiful woods behind my house, with the Mississippi River shimmering through the gaps, then down at one of my beautiful, yummy babies eating his or her toes, and I would know deep in my bones that it was true. Our life was (and still is) very lovely. The words helped me to focus on the moment at hand– giving loving care to my precious babies– while simultaneously framing the larger picture, that this time of tedium and frequent frustrations was indeed fleeting.

A year or so earlier, the day we confirmed our diagnosis of twins and our daughter’s Spina Bifida (and also sat through a gruesome “information and options” session with a genetic counselor), Kenn and I huddled in a booth in a darkened restaurant in the middle of the afternoon to try to make plans. To create some order out of the chaos we had been thrust into. I wrote at the top of the yellow legal pad “1. BE HAPPY” in all caps and then underlined it. At that moment, it seemed very important that we actively choose happiness whenever possible going forward. Happiness turned out to be a stretch; joy, which can include happiness, would have been a better choice. But for the weeks and months that followed, those two words served as both a reminder and permission.

Then I went through an “It is what it is” phase, a saying which I know drives some people nuts. But I really like it and still say it often- to myself and my children- when things are difficult or the world seems unfair. To me it’s comforting and  almost shorthand for the Serenity Prayer: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

But my current and all-time favorite mantra (I even had a necklace made with the words) is “All will be well. All is well.”  The first part of this phrase sunk into my consciousness from sources unknown but is almost definitely attributed originally to a 14th century English mystic called Julian of Norwich who, the story goes, received divine revelations after a severe illness. The final one was “All shall be well… all manner of thing shall be well.” And, as I explained to my oldest son two nights ago while we were discussing his anxiety over something at school, the second part is what makes the phrase powerful to me. If I know that all will be well eventually, then it’s fine right now. He wasn’t buying it and asked, “but what if it’s not?” And I explained how “well”, in this case, doesn’t mean yippee, party-time, dance-for-joy. It just means that time heals and the world keeps turning and our little (and big) problems either get solved or we adjust. And if we can assure ourselves of that, then everything really is okay right this very minute. Anxiety and worry dissolve.

I don’t think it’s going to make it into a book of quotations, and it might not work for everyone, but it works for me.

3 responses to All is well

  1. Debbie Adams

    I met with my radiologist yesterday, and we were discussing my progress. I have 26 days behind me and 7 to go. My chest if bright red, and my underarm looks like I spent a summer in Bethany just tanning that area. For the first time, it was tender to the touch. He was telling me that I am doing so well, but the skin might blister in the next week. I told him “it is what it is, and I will deal with it”. I’ve been so blessed during this entire experience and have nothing but happy memories throughout. I’m actually going to miss going to the radiation department – it is full of angels!!

  2. Elisabeth Post Author

    Debbie, I’m glad you are almost done and so happy to hear you are hanging in there with a great outlook! Isn’t it nice to learn that even our “nightmare” scenarios can be filled with moments of joy? Thinking about you…

  3. erniebufflo

    Happy to come over and find this post. Just seeing the title made me think, “Julian of Norwich,” and then I scroll down and there it is. I love her writing so very much– she was the bright spot in a medieval lit class I took, and now I sort of think of her as a patron saint. I could totally geek out on her for hours. I find myself reassuring myself all the time with her words. All shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.

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