If I asked you to think about your past, what would be the first flashes of memory to grace your mind?
Images of celebration, journeys, and overcoming?
Or, perhaps, pictures of stinging, deep-rooted pain; of hardships, and seemingly impossible roadblocks?
Me? I see both.
It’s easy to be thankful for the things that went right.
But how can we possibly be thankful for suffering? For defeat? For the moment that derailed the trajectory of where we imagined our lives were going?
To be thankful for those things, we need a supernatural kind of thankfulness. A thankfulness deeply rooted in humility and perspective.
A few months ago, I made it to the final ten for a lead role at a professional theatre I love. I worked the callback material until I knew it like my own history. I stepped boldly into the shoes of a character unlike anything I’d ever played before. I was brave. I stretched and grew myself in ways I’d never expected to over a short weekend we were given to prepare. I worked tirelessly on the full page of specific notes the director sent the girls called back for the role. They were complicated, counter-intuitive, and brilliant. The challenge was set, and I was determined to rise to it.
When the day of the callbacks came, I put all of my fears aside. Before and after my callback, I was able to encourage the incredible girls called back for the same role. When they called me in, I left it all in the audition room. I was present, I was daring. I could not have been prouder of my performance. I had a great time! And to top it off, the director said, “Thank you, Renna. I don’t know how you did it, but you implemented every element I asked for. Brilliant. Well done.”
And when they listed the names to remain for further auditioning, I was subsequently cut and out of the running for the role.
All I could do was laugh. How could I not? There was clearly nothing else I could have done.
But when you’re so close, and you can almost taste it, it still stings for that dream of yours to be ripped away from right under your nose.
The following week, I landed an internship that has been one of the highlights of my acting life. I am taking brilliant acting classes and perform alongside TV, film, and theatre veterans. You know that voice that comes on before each show to tell you to turn off your electronic devices, not to open those really noise candy wrappers? It’s mine! In a French accent, no less. As if that wasn’t enough, I get to sing a song at the top of Act 2 that was composed for me! AND I will soon be going on as the understudy in a world premiere adaptation! I am growing! And learning! And laughing. And gaining a ton of Equity credit (professional theatre points moving me closer to becoming a Union stage actor) while having an utterly magical time.
BOTH projects would have been a dream to work on.
But I can honestly be thankful I didn’t get the first show. Although my “acting life” traded me a leading role for a supporting one, I know I’m right where I’m meant to be.
When things happen that make the word "thankful" taste like dirt, how you look at your circumstances makes all the difference. For example: I’m not thankful your boyfriend cheated on you. But I’m thankful you’re no longer with an unfaithful man.
I’m not thankful you had to move away right before your senior year. But I’m thankful for the incredible people you’ve met in that new place.
I’m not thankful you lost your job. But I’m thankful that it allowed you to reassess what type of work actually brings you joy.
Sometimes life is like an impressionist painting. You don't get it if you're standing too close. You have to step back and experience the solitary strokes as a whole.
That’s how you can choose to be thankful for a rocky past. Each thick crash of the paint brush is an experience. Up close, it is a meaningless, unrelated attack on your plans and dreams.
But when you take a step back, life has painted you a breathtaking ocean. A swirling, propelling, active ocean full of your stories that anchored you where are, and moored you into who you need to be.