If there were college degrees earned on the topic of struggle, I would have a doctorate degree by now. But I would not be alone. I think of the thousands of people I have met and come to know on a more personal level. We would each have this degree up on our wall, granted by the School of Hard Knocks. As I volunteered around the world, there are those that would go way beyond doctorate degrees, some at very young ages. Frankly it was just this fact that helped me to keep going at times that I wanted to call it quits. There were others whose trials and tribulations were off the charts and yet they persevered. These individuals are my heroes, in that they had every right to end their pain, but instead woke up and mustered up the energy to put one leg in front of the other.
One of my conclusions about life is that it is indeed difficult and challenging at times, and for some, central to their life experience. For such individuals, there appear to be four possible choices; 1) fight: to be the victim and blame their hardships on others, remaining angry and in distress, 2) flight: to find one of the many ways to escape or numb the pain, to remain in neutral, 3) acceptance: to be okay with the challenge, to acknowledge it for what it is, and to bear it, and, 4) resilience: to view the struggle as a challenge to overcome. I made each of these choices throughout my life. As I grew in my own self-awareness, and put this in context to my belief that life is meaningful, I focused more on choice 4.
Let me share the experience of one of my heroes, Beata. I was a volunteer at a children’s oncology camp, Camp Good Days & Special Times, in upstate New York. During one of their international weeks, I had formed a special connection with a group of kids from Poland. One of these was the young teen Beata, who had one leg removed from her cancer. We made a pact that in return for their willingness to live on, that I would visit them within a few years. They held up their end of the bargain and so did I.
I stayed with their families, and we visited some of the famous sites. But it was at the end of the day, when they would let their hair down and talk about their continued struggles with cancer. Beata asked if she could share a poem that she had written about this struggle. I was in tears as she talked about the impact cancer had on her life, but the poem revealed the truth that she had learned about her disease. It was about her gratitude for having this disease in that it made her more appreciative about life, her family, etc. It blew me away that a teenager could have this perspective.
A few years later she succumbed to her new friend, cancer, and I will never forget the call she made to me. She was the one telling me not to be sad, in that she had lived her life and was grateful for so many things including meeting me. Not only did this have an amazing influence on me, but it finally helped me to understand a similar situation when my mother died of breast cancer when I was 15. She uttered similar words.
You may wish to disregard the following comments since it is simply my own belief I had formed related to life and struggle. Fundamental to life, and in any aspect of life, from molecules to the heavens, is growth. And what is the greatest stimulus to growth? Pain! While we are riding the great waves of life, we are not driven to change, until the wave crashes. We grow from these experiences. This coupled with my belief that we are here to grow, solves the riddle why there is so much pain and struggle. As I reflect over my past and countless hours of struggle, I can see through the pain and see how much I have grown. In a strange way, like Beata, I am thankful for these experiences for whom I have become.
To set the record straight, this does not make the pain any easier while experiencing the struggle. Frankly it sucks, and it is normal and natural to experience the range of emotions, from anger to depression, while there. But it is that tiny little piece of my truth that resides deep in my subconscious that is triggered somehow and reminds me that there is something powerful to learn from this experience. It is often on the hundredth time I am reminded of this that I focus more on choice # 4.
And also, I have made a shift in my beliefs to acknowledge that there are struggles that I cannot comprehend that can cause a person to call it quits. I hold no judgement for those who make this choice. I do believe in life, and can only hope that before anyone calls it quits that they meet someone like Beata, who becomes an inspiration and source of hope.
Here is to our collective struggle as humanity. We are in the throws of it now. May we each consider the learnings this is teaching us and inspire us to make differences in the only thing that we truly control, ourselves.