I took up running in the fall, and discovered (to my surprise) I really enjoy it! The coach and leader of the run club had us out in weather where I would normally be staying cozily at home. She would say things like “we’re not out to set a personal best on a day like today – today is all about building character!” when it was raining, snowing, windy or cold.
The book “Against An Infinite Horizon: The Finger of God in Our Everyday Lives” by Ronald Rolheiser said something similar that I’ve been thinking about. “it is not our strengths that give us depth and character but our weaknesses … we grow first by falling apart … almost always deep growth takes place through … our deaths, our losses, our dark nights of the soul … our souls, precisely insofar as they have depth, strength, compassion, and hold interest for others have been shaped by [times when we experience powerlessness]. It is not that these are good in and of themselves; it is just that when we listen to them we grow deep. These inferiorities, these humiliations, are not things to be cured from, things to be solved, things to be ignored, things to be buried as private and past shames. They are to be listened to. They are entries into the depth of our souls.”
Hmm. I can see this at work in my own life in one example – in elementary school when the popular girl (L) of our class didn’t like me. I don’t remember details particularly but I was often on my own, and came home in tears a lot. I did have some other kids to hang out with, but I’ve always been a bookworm so I found a lot of friends in books too. My family & my mom were just wonderful – I remember a conversation with my mom where she said “I wonder what is happening in L’s life, that she needs to try to tear another person down so that she feels better?” It’s a question I’ve often asked when I’ve seen this kind of behaviour around me at other times. Because of the love and acceptance of my family, I got through this experience and became a stronger person, more self-reliant, less susceptible to peer pressure, more confident and resilient. I wouldn’t trade that experience for a happier school experience at that point, because I don’t think I’d be who I am today, and I like those things about myself. (as a side note, L ended up alienating a number of people in the class by these behaviours, and in gr 8 it had all balanced out).
But, take the experience of IF. I suppose it brings certain gifts with it – perhaps a deeper relationship with your spouse/partner, certainly more compassion for others and a much greater appreciation of what a precious gift a child is. I can see how a person might say “even though it was hard, I’m glad I went through IF” if they do eventually achieve their dream. But what if they don’t? What if no tx work, or there isn’t enough $$ for adoption or more tx, or the window just passes and the couple knows that CF is the best decision for them? I’m guessing not everyone would say “I’m glad for the experience of IF. It has enriched me so as a person, I wouldn’t have missed it.”
And what about other tragedies – like natural disasters, accidents, poverty, disease, war and violent crime. I understand that bad things happen, and there’s only so much we can influence that. I understand that how we respond to something beyond our control is really the key. Maya Angelou, Victor Frankl, Harold Kushner, and even my grandparents and mom show great examples of responding in a “life giving” way. But one could easily respond with anger and bitterness. And even if you find a way to respond positively, can you really say you’re grateful for these events? Maybe it is, and I just can’t see how at this time. Maybe something needs to help us transcend these tragedies. I would call it God’s grace, but I’m sure it has other names to other people.
On the other hand, maybe we just tell ourselves we’re building character in an attempt to find a positive throughout all the negatives. Perhaps it’s that little white lie that helps us persevere and survive.
If you have thoughts to share, I’d love to read them.