How many times in our lives has something happened to stop us in our tracks? How often does a sudden illness, death of someone we love or loss of a job or home, kneecap us at the most basic level? Those events often put the brakes on our ideas of what the future should be – or if it even can be. That’s where the comma comes in.
Events come along in everyone’s life, both good and bad, that feel monumental. We fall in love, get the perfect job, get married, lose loved ones, get promoted, get divorced, have kids, move to a new home, get fired… the list goes on and on. These occasions can seem like mistakes or miracles, but no matter how they are received, they make us pause and consider.
“Life is a series of commas, not periods.” Matthew McConaughey
Experiences are all personal. What feels huge to us, may be business as usual for someone else. What might drop us like a rock, can be just a blip in the life of another. Depending on the circumstance, the event can feel like an ending, a bleak finality or a turning point where we are forced to move in another direction. We are either stuck, feeling that things will forever exist in this new context or find challenge to look outward, hopefully to find a new meaning to the story. If I have a choice between period and comma, I choose a comma.
Life is about change. It’s fluid, unpredictable and sometimes, even batshit crazy. Like a basket of fruit, even the best of times can turn but, conversely, bad stuff will usually get better. Okay, it may not get better the way we chose when we put in our order. But, as I told my kids when they were little, if Santa doesn’t get you what was on your list, he probably knew of something even better. If you’ve lived through wish lists spawned by Sears Christmas Toy catalogs, you know exactly what I mean.
“There comes a time when you have to choose between turning the page — and closing the book” Josh Jameson
Unfortunately, this thing called life doesn’t come with instructions or guarantee. You can look at life as merely a run-on sentence, with a period at the end, or imagine all the commas in-between. Just like we use commas to separate words and phrases into understandable chunks, sometimes their misuse create humor we hadn’t intended. “Let’s eat, grandma!” or “Let’s eat grandma”. Yup, commas running amok can be pretty hilarious. Life, not so much. When what we have neatly planned goes off the rails, it might be a lot less funny. Still, that’s when we can be our strongest, when we have the power to go through the fire to find their true north. And really, isn’t that most of our lives?
Unlike the gracious comma, periods mark the end. They don’t define life, only punctuate what’s between the commas. They deliver finality we’re not always ready to meet. The stop signs of life, periods force us to skid to a halt, while commas allow us to catch our breath and cross the street toward the next path we are meant to find. We wander or plow through, achieve what we were meant to – or not – until the next red light. And then we begin again.
Along the road of commas, mistakes sometimes become miracles, a confusing juncture become where we find clarity and a confounding predicament dissolves into a simple freedom. In the end, what happens between the commas is what makes us most alive.
“Death is not a period but a comma in the story of life.” Amos Traver
Neither success nor failure defines the sentence. Neither is permanent; neither is a period. When we lose, we haven’t blown the whole gig and when we win, it doesn’t mean we always will. The sentence goes on. We can’t be shocked at either turn. Just because we finally found our ‘other’, doesn’t mean we’ll have that true love forever. I know that up close and personal. Then again, just because we suffer a terrible loss, doesn’t mean we’ll be in that netherworld place forever. The sentence goes on; sometimes we just need to write it.
A period is a dead end, the finish. We have a lot of commas to live before that our final destination. It’s the twists and turns along the way, all the commas that make our lives unexpected and worth the journey. There’s always more to follow — until there isn’t.
As much as they often seem interminable, bad times don’t last. At the end of our sadness and desperation, there’s always another comma behind door #2. High School grammar told us that commas mean you need to keep going. In life, it’s taking a breath before continuing on. Make your comma a gateway to awesome.