The mind is its own place and can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven.

Paradise Lost, by John Milton

Have you ever experienced something terrible? Did you wonder why? Did you wonder if you were supposed to learn something from it or uncover a hidden gift? If there was, what was it?

Why do people say there’s a hidden gift in calamity?

See if anything in this situation sounds familiar. Imagine a dating couple, Abigail and Barney:

She made time for Barney tonight because she’d been so focused on creating a handbook for her staff and the PowerPoint to explain its features and functions that they’d barely had a long conversation in three weeks.

Abigail made herself look at his face mindfully, trying not to see possible PowerPoint images when the restaurant manager explained something to a young waiter. Barney’s cheekbones really let people notice his dark brown eyes.

Barney could sense that she was really focused on him and was thrilled that he was important enough for her to stop doing what she was doing for herself, and to do something with him. He smiled, visualizing how he could help her relax after they got to her apartment.

He would make her feel as though he were unwrapping a gift when he touched her.

There was a clock on the wall behind Barney’s head and Abigail looked at it as she smiled at him. They’d have to leave within thirty minutes so she’d have enough energy to revise the formatting on a few sections of the handbook, so they’d have to ask for the check in 15 minutes. They had time for coffee after dinner, but not dessert.

When they arrived at Abigail’s apartment, she told him he couldn’t come in. He didn’t particularly like her neighborhood, so he always parked and went inside when he dropped her off — even if it was just to make sure everything was okay inside. She gave him a peck on the lips, hugged him and rushed to unlock the two door locks. He turned, buttoned his coat and trotted down her steps, then walked quickly to his car and drove off.

The kitchen light was on. Had she left the light on? No. She’d left before it was dark. A chilly breeze blew into the living room. How? The kitchen window? Too many thoughts came at once. Her desk in the living room alcove was almost clean. No desktop, laptop or tablet. There were papers and bags in the hallway. Abby got cold chills down her legs. She couldn’t move. Then she heard the noises and her feet came back to life. She saw a bearded man lurch out of the kitchen holding a knife. Her hands wouldn’t unlock the door fast enough, but then it opened and she was back outside in the cold.

She leapt down the steps, screaming, waving her arms at the taillights stopped at the light at her corner as she ran toward them.

Barney was pissed, fuming, waiting for the light to turn green. He looked behind him before he turned the corner and saw an Abigail-sized woman waving her arms in the darkness and running towards the corner. Then, he saw a big person behind her, walking fast with something in his hand. He put the car in reverse, swerved around the car behind him and started blowing the horn. Should he run over the guy? He opened the door and Abigail threw herself inside. He careened away so he could reach over her, slam the door closed, and Abby could just hold onto him.

“This is my fault,” Barney thought to himself. “I’m a stupid, self-centered beast.”

“What’s wrong with me? Why didn’t l let him come in and check the house?” Abby thought when she was able to think again.

So what could happen? They could hate each other or love each other.

Abby could change jobs, stop everything and change apartments. Stop working. Blame Barney for not insisting that he come in to check the place or go stay with her parents 30 miles away. Barney could blame Abby or himself — be too ashamed to face her. He could berate her for pushing him away, or quit his job in the same facility where Abby worked. Nobody was supposed to know they were dating.

Or they could intentionally look for the gift in the garbage.

Every experience has some hidden gift, although some are hidden much better than others. They’ll have to go through a recovery — individually and as a couple — in any case. They could seek the strength within themselves.

Some gifts of strength are only activated by intense pain, but then their gift could be a self-discovery that changed the rest of their lives. Barney could decide to focus on security and protection. Abby could focus on safe housing.

The gift could be in the way they see each other in relation to the rest of their lives. Will they marry? Each day after that night could be imagined like the dessert they didn’t have time to eat – precious and wonderful. Would they decide to be happy each of those bonus days?

If you intentionally look for a gift, even in a pile of garbage — or a burglary, serious illness, rape or even someone’s death — you can find it. It might take years, but what other paths would you choose in those circumstances? The time will pass anyway and you can decide to hold a gift or garbage as the outcome.

If you’ve had a serious situation and you want help finding the gift, contact me.  [email protected],

 Photo Credit: Cristian Newman,