“Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.”~Napoleon Hill.
My parents were married for 66 years when my father died. Theirs was a partnership that endured through many struggles and across many miles and left a legacy of enduring lessons along with a large family. But it was one which could easily have not come to pass. For a start my mother’s birth was a difficult one, and the doctor who delivered her assumed she had died (or as the story went, he threw her under the bed for dead) and it was up to the midwife (Happy Nurses’ Week!) to retrieve her, revive her and ensure that she had a chance.
But even their meeting required a particular set of circumstances (serendipity). My father was at the time a student minister and was working with the minister of a nearby church. That minister wanted to get a youth group going and one day he asked my grandmother, who he knew had a large family, if any of her young people would come and help him get it started. My grandmother volunteered my mother (please note, this was not the church they attended), my mother showed up at the first night, with an attitude as she was not happy to have been volunteered, and that was how she met my father.
Their courtship lasted three years before they married, although it times it seemed it never ended. When she died and we were clearing through a lifetime of accumulated memories, we found books that he had given her in their early years. Aside from a book of love poems he would give her books about Christianity, a play about a minister’s wife, religious books. It appeared that just as he was being educated in theological college and University, he realized that a minister’s wife needed to be trained and groomed and prepared. It may seem bizarre to young people today, but the minister’s wife was a part of the package deal. In fact, the interview process often included a meeting with the wife to see if she was of the right caliber, or character, or temperament to fit the church. Can you imagine going for a job interview and being told: ‘We like you, but we have to meet your spouse before we can decide if you’re right for the job’.
I don’t believe it was easy for my mother to fit into the role. She was a little too blunt; a little too free in giving her opinion. My father was a charmer; he was easy to love, handsome and full of jokes. He used stories to give lessons, whether on Friday mornings at school assembly, or in class while teaching Religious Knowledge. He turned the Bible into a textbook; a resource manual as well as a book of history and literature. He too could be blunt, but that was usually his tool of last resort, where gentle persuasion had failed. He also understood and forgave human weaknesses. My mother on the other hand was less forgiving, more demanding that humans use their common sense. The two approaches contrasted fairly sharply, yet they worked together.
On my recent trip around Central and West Florida, I made time to visit nature. I also visited some craft breweries and tasted some craft beer. That was a pleasant and different experience. But when I visited the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota, there was an art display by the artist Marc Chagall. There were also some of his quotes posted around the estate, amid the riot of orchids, the carefully tended gardens, and the creative rainforest display. One of the signs said: “All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.” Of course, as an artist, he was referring to colors in nature and in his paintings. I immediately thought of people, and wished that it could be true of human beings. Instead we tend to stick to our neighbors and distrust our opposites.
This week I have been thinking about the opportunities for lessons in life, and our capacity for growth. I began my career as a bedside nurse (they call them ‘direct care’ today), and was immediately given lessons by my patients. I observed how they approached their challenges, many with optimism and hope, which seemed more important in their healing than the medicines and treatments we provided. I met people who, even as they were fighting cancer, were just as concerned about my health (the lady who had her sons bring me a bottle of Guinness stout, to put some color in my cheeks). I saw how some people use adversity to move them to a higher plane, who transcend their disabilities and turn them into a better understanding of what things are truly important in this life: relationships and connections over possessions; love and forgiveness over resentment and hate.
Since switching to teaching I have again learned many lessons from my students. I have learned that often the key to obtaining an education is the belief you can do it (self-efficacy), and that self-doubt is more detrimental than academic weakness. But most of all I have learned to recognize the steely determination that propels some students forward, that ensures their success despite a lack of experience, or language problems. Those who echo the quote by Theodore Roosevelt who describes those people of great courage and bravery who manage to pick themselves up again and again, being not afraid to fail, but are willing to fail again, while ‘daring greatly’.
I am sure that my mother struggled and often failed to curb her natural tendencies which were not best suited to her role as minister’s wife. I am sure that many people do not find that things come naturally to them, but have to continue to strive and fail, before ultimately succeeding. Those of us who stick to what we know, who only take on challenges we are sure we can achieve will find ourselves stuck in a rut. But when ‘push comes to shove’ we will discover our own inner strength and steely determination.
This Friday morning I hope you are strong enough to recognize when life is giving you opportunities for growth and development. I hope you dare greatly in your desire to move beyond the place you are today. I hope that you can transcend the everyday battles to let go of petty resentments to emerge stronger in the face of adversity.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!