“It is what it is,” she said to her friend as I was passing by, on my way to the annual arena sale near my home.
Seems like a popular phrase lately, at least to my ears. I hope this phrase—it is what it is— is not in danger of becoming a trivial one, like many often-used expressions, because I’ve learned that when people say this phrase, they’re not referring to some trivial occurrence but to a difficult, if not grave, circumstance in their lives. I hear it from mourners and caregivers, those who have suffered major loss, and when I hear them speak these words, I know there’s more. There’s more story to be told. Simple words; complex situation.
So I seek to listen more closely, trying to remain open and porous so that the deeper significance of these words soak in: a parent admitted to a nursing home, a spouse diagnosed with early Alzheimers, a longtime marriage ending, a bank account drained dry, a teenager recovering from addiction.
And then I begin to wonder, how long have they been on this particular journey? How long has it taken before they could say, “It is what it is?” Probably awhile. Maybe a long, long time. The grief-filled road leading from denial and false hopes to honesty and acceptance is long and winding, requiring every last ounce of courage to say it is what it is. To utter these words, it seems to me, requires a stark encounter with our powerlessness over that which we had hoped with all our might to change, but now know that we cannot and never will.
But powerlessness does not mean despair. Paradoxically, when we name our powerlessness, we claim our power. When we are able to speak with stark honesty to the full significance of our struggle and relinquish the comfort of false hopes, we access a powerful, inner strength. We stand at the threshold of hope, based not on wishful thinking but on reality.
With feet firmly planted in the ground, we embrace the genuine hope that enters our hearts as we begin a new journey: life at a depth and significance that we would not have known otherwise.
It is what it is.