Doesn’t it seem sometimes that life has too many challenges? I know I give a green-eyed glare of envy at those whose days seem smooth and effortless, and I think, wouldn’t that be lovely?
Well, maybe not so much.
Without minor keys and a few discords, music would be as vapid as the stuff they play in elevators and dental offices. If our days slid along as comfortable as a snoozing cat, how would we develop our character muscles?
Maybe I’ve been watching too much “Call the Midwife,” but I find an analogy in the way newborns begin to breathe. It’s the very stress of that tumultuous trip through the birth canal where baby is squeezed to heck by those powerful uterine contractions, that massages the amniotic fluid out of baby’s lungs, preparing her for an easy transition to breathing air. Babies born by c-section, as our granddaughter was last spring, are more likely to need their airways suctioned. I still remember watching a nurse pummel our newborn granddaughter’s back because hours after birth her breathing was still heavy with mucous.
I suspect that some of the struggles we encounter in our non-infant lives end up, in the long run, helping us as well. I’m not saying that hard times are part of some master plan, perhaps anymore than the hardship of labor was until Eve ate that apple. But since we have them, they do seem to give us something besides pain.
I think, for instance, of Helen Keller. If she hadn’t, as a toddler, been so ill that she became blind and deaf, what might she have been? Perhaps just another pretty little Alabama girl, coddled by her parents into a pretty little young lady whose future might have revolved around dressing pretty, acting pretty, and marrying well so she could raise a pretty little Alabama girl of her own.
Instead, she struggled: to find language, to discover that words have meaning, to make a place for herself in a world hardly catering to the blind and deaf. And so she became the Keller of fame: Radcliffe College grad, author, lecturer, strong woman of character. Surely the very challenges she was dealt made her what she became.
It’s a reason not to hover too closely over our children’s lives, perhaps. We need to let them stumble a bit, so they know they can right themselves. For example, last week our daughter got caught in Detroit when a lengthy de-icing of one plane made her miss another. She handled the surprise overnight stay with grace and courage, with only a few texts and calls home. Not that I’d wish the experience on her, but now she knows what to do next time she gets stuck somewhere, and more importantly, knows she can handle it.
There’s a balance, of course. As a young teen, I got stranded in DC one evening when whatever bus or train supposed to get me home had issues. Unlike my daughter, I didn’t have the option of contacting my parents for support, emotional or otherwise. I was on my own, and I knew it, and though I learned, once again, that I could handle things on my own, I was also confirmed in my belief that the world was a harsh and unsafe place to be.
As I said, there’s a balance: let our offspring cope with challenges, but if possible, tailor our involvement according to their ages and abilities.
But let’s not eliminate the challenges altogether. It seems that our struggles do more than just etch lines in our faces.
Have you seen any benefits from challenges you’ve faced?