To Misty: The problem with adversity
The problem with adversity is that it tells us very little about the person who has experienced it.
We study adversity as if it does. We treat people as if it does. We make endless assumptions as if it does. Then, someone comes along who turns all our assumptions on their head.
My friend Misty lived in dozens (yes, dozens) of foster placements before she was 18 years old. She suffered more adversity, more random and unfathomable kinds of pain, than a child should ever have to endure. She acted out (one of those kids) and gave it right back to the world - angry and entitled.
Then, with a contagious smile that lit up every room she entered, she got her Masters degree in Social Work and set about changing the world for other children (and the adults they became) who had not been held precious in the way every child deserves. She did it in big meaningful ways, building a national organization, attracting the support of stars, and reaching thousands with that indomitable spirit.
In her 30s, her body was ravaged by disease that put her behind a walker when she should have been enjoying the fruits of her success. And across the miles, her smile still lit up the world.
Then, before midlife, came early onset Alzheimer’s (What?)- and still that light could not be extinguished, with Facebook posts like “the 10 best things about Alzheimer’s” (e.g. you can enjoy the same episode of your favorite sitcom like it was the first time every time) and beautiful, intricate drawings that filled her days - and her mind.
Now, as her physical light prepares to leave this world much too early, my heartbreaks and bursts with joy at the same time.
“Misty, you are one of the brightest lights my world has ever encountered. Ray Charles, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama... These are bright lights I never got to meet. But I got to meet you.
I remember when, three days into our first encounter in the redwood forests of southern California, surrounded by kids in foster care, you told me that I was the first person to ever be with you that long without asking to hear "your story" - by which you meant your well-known adversity story. I looked at you and said, ‘Misty, I have YOU, right here. I can see your light. What else do I need to know?’”
We all so deeply want the excuse of our adversity - an explanation for being less than who we really are. Misty gives us the right to claim our adversity stories, but not to live in them. She teaches us that what comes next is always a choice. And she teaches us that we are so, so much more than we ever imagined.
Our strength comes from our adversity. The expression of that strength comes from choosing a new story.
Thank you, Misty, for showing us how.