Today is June 25 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often can you help yourself get out of the depths?” Navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well is hard. Life is difficult and often overwhelming. Financial concerns, health problems, and family issues occupy our thoughts and can, if we allow them to, bring us to depths so far down it is difficult to see the light.
Author Elisabeth Kübler-Ross noted “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” You may feel alone in the depths, but rest assured you have company. You may feel like no one understands you, but some people do. You may think it is impossible to find a way forward but know there is a way. Gabriele Anderson Grunewald is one such example.
Grunewald was one beautiful person. Grunewald was an American professional middle-distance runner who competes in distances from 800 meters to 5000 meters. She represented the United States at the 2014 IAAF World Indoor Championships and finished in tenth place. She was the national champion in the 3000 meters at the 2014 USA Indoor Track and Field Championships. Grunewald suffered from a rare metastatic cancer. In 2016, surgeons cut a large tumor out of her liver, which left a purple half-moon scar that stretches across her abdomen. In the spring of 2017, physicians found two new tumors there. This is her fourth bout with cancer, and she is just 30 years of age.
As Michael Powell said in his New York Times story on Grunewald “To receive a serious cancer diagnosis is to feel an overpowering desire to retreat within and to try to block out the chirpings of your mind. Grunewald made the decision to crawl out.” She crawled out of the depths and began running again. The easier thing to do was to quit and stay in bed waiting to die. But Grunewald understood she had the strength to crawl out of the depths and live another day. In so doing so inspired others to get out of their depths.
“Brave Like Gabe” became her motto, and the name of a foundation she started for cancer research. Grunewald considered her scars a sign of her ability to handle adversity and encouraged others on social media to do the same. “My scars represent survival. My scars teach me to embrace my body and honor its strength. My scars are a physical manifestation of what often feels like an invisible disease. My scars tell my life’s story, and I’m pretty glad it’s not over yet.” At the time of Powell’s article Grunewald was uncertain how long her body would accommodate a battle with an aggressive cancer and professional running. As she continued battling cancer and running at the professional level, Grunewald said she is either “relentless or insane. I can’t pretend that I’m fine because I’m not fine, ya know? This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
In June 2019 Grunewald lost her final battle with cancer. For a while though, she found a way out of the depths and demonstrated what Kübler-Ross observed in that “beautiful people do not just happen.” Dozens of people commented on the Powell article. One such person wrote “I am crying. Having been a pediatric oncology clinical nurse specialist for many years, I know just how hard this is and what a monumental effort it is to keep going on and trying to succeed in your life. Beautiful article and my prayers are with her and her husband.”
In a May 27, 2021, editorial, New York Times columnist David Brooks discussed the unmasking involved with COVID-19. As more people receive their vaccinations the mandates to wear masks were lifted. Brooks suggested the physical masks people wore during the global pandemic “were layered on top of all the psychological masks we had put on, out of fear, in the years before Covid.” Prior to Covid people were a variety of masks. For example, “Productivity is a mask. I’m too busy to see you. Essentialism is a mask. I can make all sorts of assumptions about you based on what racial or ethnic group you are in. Self-doubt is a mask. I don’t show you myself because I’m afraid you won’t like me. Distrust is a mask. I wall myself in because I’m suspicious you’ll hurt me.” Brooks challenged readers to take off their psychological masks while they were removing their physical masks. “If there is one thing I’ve learned in life, it is that we have more to fear from our inhibitions than from our vulnerabilities. More lives are wrecked by the slow and frigid death of emotional closedness than by the short and hot risks of emotional openness.”
How often do your self-imposed restrictions (inhibitions) prevent you from moving forward?
How often do you limit the opportunities to be emotionally involved (vulnerabilities)?
Upon reflection, which of the two has held you back more in life: inhibitions or vulnerabilities?
Grunewald demonstrated the power of being vulnerable. By sharing her cancer story with others while continuing to compete at a high level, she exposed herself to the judgement of others. In so doing, however, she found a way out of the depths to navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well until her death.
How often do you find your way out of the depths so that you may keep trying to succeed in your life?
What have you done late to become a beautiful person?