I am indebted to my sister, Brenda, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker for mentoring me with the phrase “it’s all good.”
You see, Brenda has had her fair share of trials and tribulations in this world, which would have probably brought a lesser, characterologically-intact, person to their knees begging for mercy and looking for any way out.
But not my baby sister for whom the motto “it’s all good” is a clarion call to arms, vis-a-vis, the moral road less-travelled in the face of chronic, insufferable and unremitting adversity.
Brenda has struggled with thyroid cancer replete with multiple associated auto-immune disorders which has sapped her strength and morale. Every day is an uphill climb for her to just get to even despite her being weighted-down at every twist and turn by her illness.
Adding to her health burden are other of her family members who depend upon her to be there for them since they, too, suffer from serious ailments ranging from hiatal hernias to diverticulitis to replacement of cervical discs to battery-inflicted traumatic brain injuries.
So whenever I inquire as to the physical and emotional status of herself and her beloved family members Brenda asserts with conviction “it’s all good.”
Hmm, what about “it” is “all good” when so much in her personal world from my vantage point is really not-so-good in the slightest, let alone, at all? “It’s all good!” Really?
Baby sister reminded me that we grew up in the inner city of Chicago during the 50’s in a single-parent household with no resources. No food, no winter clothing, no gas, no electricity, no money, no transportation, no nothing. What we had were each other, lots of love and the hope, wish and prayer that somehow we would survive and possibly thrive.
The neighborhood was fairly rough with lower-class working families endeavoring to eke out an existence slightly above meager. You either found a way to successfully pull yourself up by your own bootstraps or you soon wound-up on-the-skids with even less than you had before!
People were obligatorily friendly but only up to a point since everyone was competing for the same relatively limited neighborhood resources like jobs, parking spaces and allies.
You were either “in” or you were “out” with no in-between. And so the only real option available to those who had nothing was to procure credentials through higher education.
By burning the candle at both ends, if one was persistent enough, one could subsist on crumbs and hopefully get a degree. Brenda did just that but only after first flunking out of junior college in order to sow her wild oats. She needed a taste of profound failure in order to clarify what path in her life she would no longer pursue.
Then she returned to school on a mission to excel with straight A’s in college and in graduate school at the University of Chicago. Well, to be accurate, there was one “B” following an in-class disagreement with a famous U. of C. professor when Brenda declined to subordinate her opinion to that of her instructor. Still, she proclaimed, “it’s all good.”
Then, when our mother was dying from metastatic breast cancer and Brenda received her own coincidental diagnosis of thyroid cancer with subsequent radioactive treatments which precluded her from visiting our mother for fear such a visit would hasten the elder’s death. Still, she proclaimed, “it’s all good.”
Then, when her youngest son went away to a major university filled with such promise and potential only to be brutally mugged during his first week of school and beaten to an inch of his life for a few dollars in his wallet with continuing post-traumatic effects of head injuries years later as he suffered himself to complete his academic studies every step of the way. Still, she proclaimed, “it’s all good.”
Then, when her husband lost his job after faithful service for much of his adult working life and then lost his confidence when the economy took a prolonged downturn and he was unable to find a job for several years, all-the-while, struggling with serious chronic health issues of his own. Still, she proclaimed, “it’s all good.”
Then, discovering that her eldest son who was completing a law degree at a prestigious out-of-state university required unexpected surgery just as he was preparing to graduate and to study for the bar exam. Still, she proclaimed, “it’s all good.”
So my dear sister, whatever do you mean when you say “it’s all good”?
Are you pretending that reality is other than it is or are you distantiating affective experience in service of a compensatory adaptation in the face of the impossible?
Is it all good or is it all bad?
Is it all good or is whatever it is so horrible and so painful for you that to name it is to become a passive-dependent victim of fate and circumstance over which you are abjectly powerless to exert your will?
“It’s all good” I have now come to realize is you looking at the glass as half-full and reminding yourself that even in the face of the insufferable one can still assert one’s self-agency to think, judge and act consonant with one’s emerging and evolving values system in service of doing what is right.
You have taught me that even when it’s all bad, “it’s all good!”
Clearly, you are a true exemplar of what the flesh and blood and guts of fortitude, perseverance and tenacity really looks like, always walking with honor, in the face of each and every adversity and never ever, ever giving up, even when you want to and when you no longer have the strength to carry on.
Thank you, baby sister for your gentle wisdom.
You are my hero!
Author Note: Dr. Larry B. Gelman is a Clinical Psychologist and a Personal Mentor
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