I’ve been thinking about how we can do hard things. It’s not easy—by definition. But we humans are strong and resilient. Some of us (me) absorbed the idea that life’s default setting was happy and smooth. Like Happy Days and the Fonz. Always tied up in a bow by the end of half an hour. As if the hard things, the life-falling-apart-things, are the exception instead of the norm. If we work hard enough and get it right, the pain and disappointment, heartbreak and tragedy all disappear. The thing is, that’s a lie. Life is hard. Much harder for some than others, but always hard. And beautiful, too. Often at the very same time.
Turns out letting go of the life should be easy illusion makes life easier. Even the struggles. When I show up for the challenges instead of resisting, pushing against them, trying to flatten the steep inclines and smooth out the hairpin turns, I have the energy I need to keep walking.
I walked up a mountainside that way last month. I had two hours for a hike in the Davis Mountains between a couple days of writing and my journey home to my family. I didn’t think I’d make it to the top but I started out anyway. I felt anxious and out of sorts for some reason. For ALL the 2020 reasons and regular life reasons: I’d planned another hike I love in far west Texas but a lock hung on the chained entrance. Then I couldn’t find the trailhead at my detour— the state park. (My brain doesn’t do spacial intelligence very well. I’m often wandering to find my way—in grocery store parking lots, driving to a new friend’s house, driving away.) But I didn’t give up.
Once I started up the trail, I knew I’d made the right choice. My muscles whooshed blood through my body, my breath deepened and filled my lungs. After a few minutes, endorphins chased anxiety away. My mind cleared. I pounded around switch backs and up rock-held-in-by-railroad-tie steps, following the wooden arrows pointing the way. Only the rocks and trees heard me chat with the signs when I didn’t understand the directions. (I chat with items on grocery stores shelves, too.)
I felt alive. And tired. And out of shape. Mostly I looked down at my boots to keep from tripping, but every so often I looked up. The expansive, blue Texas sky hung over purple mountains—a giant women napping on her side in the distance. Sunlight played with tall grasses along the trail. I snapped a picture. The next time I looked up, the wind blew my sunhat off and I saw the top of the mountain. Trees in the valley below looked lilliputian. How far I’d come in 45 minutes. Anxiety to exhilaration. Lost to found in the vast vista of mountains and valleys.
That’s when I started thinking about how we can do hard things. All of us. My parenting journey has often felt like climbing a mountain. In Haiti, where my oldest daughter was born, they have a proverb: Deye mon gen mon. Beyond the mountains, more mountains. We’ve climbed lots together. Attachment and trauma; Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder; fear; anger; even hatred. Right now we’re in a lovely valley. But no doubt deye mon gen mon. But we can do hard things together. And life isn’t just hard or easy, treacherous or beautiful. Its both/and. All the time.
I believe in you, reader. You can do hard things, too. Maybe we can even do them together.