There is always a way out of hardship

It takes only a glance at the news to know about the economic hardships, disasters and tragedies all around the world. And it takes only a glance into our own lives to know that they happen close to home as well. Everyone’s difficulties are unique, but everyone has some. And perhaps that’s the first step toward coping and hoping: to realise that we’re not alone as we experience life’s hardships. We are all, to one degree or another, going through it together. While we might prefer to turn away from others and struggle privately, hearts heal best when they’re open. That’s when love can enter, when the bonds of friendship can bind up a broken heart. Writer James Thurber once shared this definition of love he heard from a friend: “Love is what you’ve been through with somebody.”

•A symbol of willingness and ability
to adjust to adversity

We’re all inspired by people who choose to go through something with someone because of love. For example, a woman who was abused in her youth is reaching out to help other young women heal. Veterans are counselling others with post-traumatic stress disorder. Widows are forming support groups. They’ve all found the secret—not just to surviving, but to flourishing.

Instead of getting stuck in the idea that our suffering isn’t fair, we cope better if we realise that the world does not owe us comfort and ease. In fact, the way out of despairing over our troubles is to stop keeping score and try to bring comfort and ease to others. When we do, life improves. Our problems seem smaller and our prospects brighter. We begin to have hope again.

A religious writer from the early 20th Century said this about the school of life: “No pain that we suffer in life, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable…. It is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we came here to acquire.”

•When one door closes another opens

As difficult as it sometimes is, the curriculum of life is perfectly suited to teach us what we need to learn. Life can teach us wisdom, refine our desires, and soften our attitudes. It can stretch us and help us grow and improve. And while life might seem a lot easier if it were pain and trouble free, it would not be sweeter. We know the sweetness of life because of-not in spite of-the bitter. We know happiness because we know sorrow. We appreciate light because we have experienced darkness. 

That doesn’t mean we welcome such tests. But when they come, as they do for all of us, it helps to see them as opportunities to learn and grow. After all, the most meaningful learning takes place outside of a classroom, in the school of life.

Just as individuals can overcome hardship and surmount challenges, so can communities and nations. Very often, it is in the soil of difficulty that the fruit of resilience and progress grows. 

About a 100 years ago, the cotton crops of Enterprise, Alabama, were devastated by a boll weevil infestation. The area’s economy was shattered, and many farmers faced bankruptcy. But rather than give in to despair and hopelessness, the citizens of Enterprise were true to their name and went to work, turning to peanuts and other crops to replace the cotton.

A few years later, that county was producing and harvesting more peanuts than any other region in the United States. In gratitude and recognition, residents erected on Main Street “the world’s only monument to an agricultural pest”: the Boll Weevil Monument. It is a symbol of a community’s “willingness and ability to adjust to adversity,” a memorial to civic resilience and progress. Inscribed on the base of the monument are the words “In profound appreciation of the boll weevil and what it has done as the herald of prosperity this monument was erected by the citizens of Enterprise, Coffee County, Alabama.”

What happened in that small, aptly named city is a reminder to each of us today: when faced with adversity, if we come together as communities and nations, strengthen our resolve, and refuse to give up, who knows what might happen? As citizens rally around common causes that promote the well-being of all, miraculous things can take place. From rubble can come new growth, from difficulty can come new opportunity, from setbacks can come stepping-stones to prosperity. Indeed, what seems difficult, even impossible, can become a new, positive reality.

If you doubt it, think of the lesson of the boll weevil and the people of Enterprise, Alabama, from decades ago.

By Samuel Enos Eghan

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