Right now I’m sitting on the couch with the window flung wide open, listening to the symphony of frogs that has congregated outside. It’s been unseasonably wet and warm. In the span of a week, we went from frozen soil and brown, withered plants to green unfurling everywhere. And best of all are the spring peepers, singing their little hearts out.
They aren’t much. They’re a little detail of my life—like tea in the morning, or snuggling my floor-chilled feet against Jordan’s ankles when I first slide into bed, or the purring kitten who is curled up on my stomach right now. But for all their insignificance, they are vitally important.
It has been a hard year for us. More than that, it has been a hard few years. We’ve been robbed at gunpoint, have been dealt heartbreaking diagnoses for immediate family members, have lost a pregnancy.
And there have been countless other little things: Chara becoming deathly ill right after our wedding. Taking on a sick foster cat who we ultimately had to put down. Trouble with both our cars. My first surgery. A job that is challenging and often emotionally exhausting. Trump getting elected. Moving and long distance relationships and 16 hour drives that stretch into 24 hour treks.
I used to feel like a very lucky person. As a child, I remember thinking to myself that nothing truly bad had ever happened in our entire family. The “buck” in Buckleitner rhymes with luck—it practically felt like a family motto. I felt beloved by the universe, like all the hard work I put into being a good person was paid back tenfold. And I saw that goodness reflected down on me by my grandparents—who are the kindest people I’ve ever known, and who are constantly saying how very, very lucky they are.
I attributed my successes to luck: getting jobs easily, being healthy, having awesome relationships with my family, marrying Jordan. Looking back, that was a fragile mindset to begin with. Because if you feel like the good things that happen to you happen only because of luck (or the benevolence of some larger being), then there is always the chance that you can lose it. My successes were constantly tinged with the terror that at any moment the good times could run out.
And then they did. At times I’ve felt like Jordan and I are in a tiny ship in a raging storm, the boat slamming down hard against the water’s surface after every relentless wave. And just as I come to terms with one difficulty, another rises up to replace it.
There have been times when I have been desperately sad. When I could barely make it through the doctor’s office doors before breaking down, or when I had to leave present opening at Christmas to huddle behind a garbage can and cry. Times when Jenna has called us over her own hurt and worry, and we have all sobbed together on the phone over how cruel life has become. I have had long, dark periods where it seemed like I couldn’t hear the birds singing in the morning, or feel the brush of Chara’s tail through my fingers on a walk.
Don’t get me wrong—I know that far worse things happen to people on a regular basis. But I don’t feel lucky any more. I understand now that you can’t buy good fortune with good deeds. That recycling and volunteering and baking lasagnas for your elderly neighbor don’t mean that you will have an easy go of it. And instead of simply fearing that the luck will run out, now I almost expect misfortune—I brace myself when I pick up the phone to get results from the doctor. And I’m not surprised when the brand new car with its brand new battery won’t start.
I’ve lost my luck and learned that life doesn’t owe me anything all in one go.
But I’ve gained something more valuable than luck or entitlement, and if there’s anything that I hope other people can learn from my misfortune, it’s this: that life is ruthless and hard, but it is also fucking beautiful and incredible. And part of what makes it so beautiful are the hard things.
I don’t mean this in the clichéd sense that the hard things make you appreciate the good things in life.
What I mean is: We are, none of us, destined to live pain-free lives. It’s impossible. In order to reap all of the good things in life, you have to love people. Whether it’s your mom, or your kid, or your spouse—whether it’s that growing embryo inside of you, or your dog or cat. These relationships are what light up our lives. Even the mere shadow of them is what draws us to spend hours watching TV shows like Friends (where, let’s face it—it isn’t the mediocre jokes that keep us coming, but the ever shifting relationships) or literally any TV show you can name.
And when you love people, you lose people. Everyone dies. It’s nature. It might happen when they are old and weak and ready to go, it could be sudden and violent, or it could creep up on them insidiously over a span of years. And if we have loved them, our little boat will be pushed out of the harbor onto that raging sea.
Over Christmas, Jordan and I had the chance to stay with my grandparents for a night. They have this giant picture board full of old photos in their kitchen, and we love to examine it and try to guess who is who. At one point my Grandpa, who is 92, pointed out a photo from their wedding where a shiny-faced, beaming young man stood at his side. “That’s my brother.”
I’d never seen him before.
“He died in an accident a long time ago,” my Grandma explained. “It really shocked us. It was terrible.”
I looked at them—ensconced so happily in their lives, surrounded by the hundreds of memories on their photo wall and photos of my brilliant, gorgeous cousins and beloved family friends gazing off the fridge at us—and I realized that they had experienced as much hardship as anyone else. They had lost their parents and siblings, had lost many of their friends.
And yet they have always maintained how very, very lucky they are. And not just in a superficial way, but in a bone deep, gratitude-filled way that makes all the food taste better in their house and makes you want to hug everyone just a little bit harder.
That was when I realized: You know those obnoxiously quippy people who say that life is what you make of it? They’re right.
It isn’t luck that makes a good life. It isn’t nothing hard ever happening to you. Hard things are going to happen. You’re going to have your heart broken. There are going to be moments when you aren’t sure whether you can go on. And there isn’t anything anyone can do about that.
But what you can do is revel in the loves that you have—in the people and things, and even the heartbreaks, that make life so rich and messy. You can pet that purring kitten, dance at weddings, sob behind garbage cans, argue with your little sister, and get caught in rain storms. You can fling your window wide and listen to the frogs.
My grandparents would call that lucky, but it’s the best kind of luck: the kind you make through your own appreciation of life. Nothing can take that away from you.