Posted by: Nancy | November 28, 2014

Experience: Nothing is Wasted

penelopeI came across a quote that helps place life events in perspective: “Experiences aren’t given to us to be ‘got over,’ otherwise they would hardly be experiences.”

It’s from the new biography of Penelope Fitzgerald, by Hermione Lee. She’s talking about the value of painful experiences. It’s a message to take to heart.

You could choose to put painful experiences out of mind quickly. It can be a kind of coping mechanism to push aside pain,  to set the memory out in the weather so rain and wind over time will erode the sharp edges of the experience.

Or you could turn that painful experience into an obsession, holding it tightly at the forefront of all thoughts; turn it over and over, endlessly examining the experience and relivingIMG_1232 the anguish.

In an interview, Hermione Lee shares that she likes to use a motto from biographer and novelist Victoria Glendenning: “Nothing is wasted.”

Lee says: “It’s a very reassuring and consoling idea, even if it isn’t always true. Think of those terrible phases in your life when you’re just grinding along, or you’re missing your way, or everything seems arid and disappointing. It helps if you can say to yourself, ‘But something will come out of this.'”

Penelope is right — it’s what you do with the experience that matters. It’s better to embrace an experience, to explore it fully, and understand it.  You don’t get over it, you use it. You find the balance to own the experience, accept vulnerability or failure or betrayal, recognize loss, hold fast to your moral core, find sustenance there. You may not lessen the loss (all pain is loss) but you can save it and use it as a lesson for future acts.

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