We six walk through the mist, feel wetness on our faces. I shiver in the night air, anticipating the heat of our van. The time and temperature has shifted from sun-kissed evening warmth to damp and foggy dusk . Nearing the last lap, we come into a clearing. And it is then I hear her call out.
“Oh! Ouch…,” she moans. I look back, and find her lying sprawled on the ground, hands muddied. Tears come quickly. “I tripped over that tree stump,” she cries. And I look back at it. That unfortunate bit of mangled tree left behind to rot. It, a flat disc about a foot in diameter. How could something so unobtrusive be so dangerous? I brush her off with my gloves, offering them to her as a protective cover for our final bit of the trail. And I marvel how we have tonight walked up and down many paths riddled with branches and inclines, only to now be taken completely by surprise with the sudden appearance of a commonplace tree stump.
But isn’t life like that? Riddled with many obvious pitfalls and a few hidden dangers. Making our journey difficult. Arduous. Hard. Life is many things, but one of the surest is that it is hard. And sometimes the hardest things in life are not the mountains, but rather they are the molehills.
And yet. If we were asked, “What is hard?”, we could all come up with a competent list of what the hardest things in life might be. What they might look like to us personally. And how it might be to live out those same hard things. To ‘live with’ x,y,or z. To ‘feel’ this or that way. To lose something or someone so very precious. An unbearably, unfathomably hard thing to go through. And we could come up with ideas about what it might look like to have ‘this or that’ hard thing. What unimaginable things ‘it’ might impose upon us. We often prepare for these worst of times in our heads, even if only doing so when we are faced with them straight on.
I consider some of the hardest things in life to be those times when life and death sit face to face. Those times when life altering choices must be made. Or times when I am thrown recklessly into adversity, into calamity, misfortune. When life gets dirty. And we are left to face the cold, hard facts.
These times I try never to imagine. But the mind is a mysterious place. A curious organism which no one can tame. It goes where it wants to go. To places beyond our finite understanding. To ‘what ifs…’ and ‘if evers…’ To the unimaginables. That dreaded phone call delivering bad news. That voice of sorrow. Those silent sobs and noiseless cries. Those dreaded times. God forbid they ever come again.
And to be sure, each one of us can envisage times like this. Times of absolute terror. And if we have lived long enough, we can remember when. That terrible ‘when’. We go there sometimes in our minds, and we see the visuals. We remember. And it’s all too real. The mental pictures. Leaving us cold and listless from conjuring up image after image. So that even these pictures, a silent screen of stills- even these become hard things.
Pain and suffering are always hard things. It goes without saying.
And yet. When I am faced with hard things on this macro level, hard things with grave and far-reaching consequences, I also recall the micro. The smaller scale of problems in life, that is- the mini disasters. The little moments of life when things fall apart at the seams. Because it is the business of living in the here and now with which I are consumed most of the time. My major preoccupation is with existing in the real world, in the tangible NOW. And when I reflect on my day-to-day life, carrying out what is normally expected of me in that world outside my head, I realize that normal, everyday life is sometimes hardest.
Painfully hard at times.
And to be sure, I do my own hard things each and every day. And all this without the world caving in around me. Even though it feels that way in the moment. Take today. I did some hard things. I multi-tasked as I got ready for work in the morning. I taught lessons in empathy to my students and reinforced those lessons within minutes of the introduction. I had a challenging conversation with my daughter about reaping what you sow. I had a few confrontations. And I dealt with suppertime mayhem. That last one has got to be the pinnacle in a mother’s day. That dreaded witching hour.
And as little and in-consequential as the above might seem to anyone else, some things in my life are hard for me. And I think the hardest thing of all is really ‘the act of keeping sane and calm in the midst of everyday living’. That is, living out my imperfect, flawed life on a daily basis and doing so to the best of my ability. Without losing my mind or my patience. For instance. Getting to work on time. Not yelling at the kiddos. Not resenting the housework. Not feeling the pressures of balancing work and home. Not feeling too pulled in any one direction. Not fighting (read: getting along with people.) Finding common ground. Being able to compromise so as to keep the peace. Saying ‘no’ even when I feel pressured to say ‘yes’. Not worrying. Not placing too much stake in my own expectations. Being kind. Being compassionate. Showing grace. Finding joy. And on and on we go.
These are hard things. Incredibly hard by times.
And we all do these hard things each and every day. They might be done in varying degrees and at varying levels, but we do them in our own unique ways. And these hard things might seem little in comparison to actual calamity, but they are nevertheless hard and difficult to do in their own respect. And yet. We do these things for the duration of our lives, following a cyclical path of journey. Little hard things leading to big hard things leading back to little hard things. Big is always followed by little. And it is the little things that get us down. They are the straws that break the camel’s back. But then again, they are also the most likely, those little moments, to be that which make us truly compassionate human beings. And it is the little hard things of life which shape us and prepare us for the big hard things. For the tests and trials.
If we can do little hard things, you can bet your bottom dollar when the time comes, we’ll be able to do the biggest of them. The big hard things. It helps to remind ourselves that we can do ‘little’ hard things. And because this is so, these little moments of pain and suffering on a small scale will hopefully prepare us for the work necessary to get us through the big losses. The big hard things. And because we can do big hard things (and I speak of a strength that enables that is not my own- HE is able and thus, so am I), then it also follows that when life returns to normal again, we can continue to do the smaller hard things too.
Because all of life is a journey. And the journey is not only about the destination. It’s about the ride. A ride that includes mountains and valleys, twists and turns. And to be sure, the mountains are tricky to manoeuvre. But then again, so are the molehills- the tree stumps, the twisted roots. And sometimes what might look like the hardest, that is ‘the mountains’, might not be so hard to move about- to walk around and do so without tripping, as are the everyday molehills.