This week was hard. But it wasn’t completely unwieldy. It wasn’t out of the range of doing. It was just simply hard. I could string out the list of events (church’s, children’s, spouse’s and mine) but that would bore me, let alone you. And the truth? I don’t think my week was any more or any less challenging than yours.
One of the nights I was going to be home to eat with my family required me to stop at the store to purchase food that we could eat together. The wind was howling that night. It was bitter and cold and cut through the heavy jacket I had on (not a winter coat, but a jacket). Because I had milk and beer as well as food, and because the cold had made my shoulder ache in a particulary poignant way, I opted to wheel the cart out to the car rather than schlep them all out by hand. This meant that I then had to wheel the cart over to the “cart corral,” where one of the women who bags groceries at the store was collecting other stray carts.
I wheeled up to her and her gray-streaked hair was flipping around her head in the wind. She had on a hoody and a slim windbreaker, and as I wheeled over to her, I shouted over the wind “I wish you didn’t have to be out in this.” She smiled at me and then laughed. And as I rushed back to the shelter of my car, I heard her laugh become a cough, a rough, smoker’s hack of a cough. Once in my car, I saw her, pushing carts into the wind, while shrinking with her cough.
The next morning I got up to do it all again, delivering a child to a meeting early at school, then in to work on the tollroad of perpetual construction. I was about to complain about it, but then I remembered driving over the nice smooth part that had been under construction earlier this year, and I drove by the men out in the wind in their Carharts and I realized: these men are employed because of this construction. These roads are getting nicer. It’s a bit dusty and discombobulating, this construction, but it is doing good things–it makes it easier for me to drive in my shelter of a car to a job far away where I sit in a building and talk to people. Theirs is hard work. Mine? Not so much.
I drove on and into the city, still thinking about the woman with the cough and the construction on MY road, when I saw a woman waiting to cross the 8 lanes of traffic. She was a young woman with a toddler on one hip and a gas can in her other hand. THAT, I thought, is hard.
This week was crazy and confusing and I got to see some people I haven’t seen in months and meet people I’ve never met before. It was long and complicated. But it wasn’t hard.
If I were ever to write my own theology, it would be a series of film clips. Right at the beginning would be this:
My heroes are the ones who do hard every day and don’t recognize it –PUBLICLY–as such. Life is hard. So is politics. So is parenting. So is finding out you have no gas and no neighbor to take you to the station or watch your toddler while you take care of the problem at hand because it needs to be taken care of. Can I put this any more simply: Of course it is hard. If it was easy, you’d be on vacation or in a coma. Life is hard and complex and continually changing–and that’s what makes it great. That’s what makes YOU great–the way you rise to the challenge of the difficult every day and slough it off as “just doin my job.” The way you hold your child instead of chastising her when what her bad behavior is saying is “I really just need to be the center of your universe right now” but she just doesn’t have the words for it. The way you stand on the bus so someone older or more frail can have the seat, even though holding the strap makes your arm ache. The way you build those roads and corral those carts and carry your toddler to get the gas. The way you bring food to a neighbor who has experienced loss, the way you pull someone aside and say “I’m sorry,” and the way you stand up and say We will not allow our children to be bullied to death any longer–and the way you say, to the teen who is lost, “I’ve been you and believe me, it is hard to be a teen queer and I won’t kid you it is much easier being an adult, but there are people here, more than before, who love you for you, so stick around and meet them.”
It is hard, but it is the hard that makes us great. But know, too, that when it gets too hard, there are people here who know it is hard and will hold you while you regroup.
I don’t know who it was that led a nation of young people to think that life would be easy because their parents worked so hard. Maybe the best gift we can give our children now is the realization that it will be hard for them–in different ways than it was hard for us. We’ve already seen that with the explosion of techno-harrassment. Old men talking about burying our children in debt. Well, let’s stop it. Stop talking about it and start doing–doing the hard work of hard choices and truly showing our children that life never gets easy, it just sometimes gets less hard. Let’s give them the ability to stand on that reality so that they are not undone by difficulty, but, instead, challenged into greatness.
And lets not forget to pause in those small moments when it is easy: when the roast and the potatoes are done at the same time, when this stretch of road is finished, when we all sit down to a meal together and talk and laugh and enjoy the ease of simply being together. Because those, my friend, are the moments that make the struggle absolutely and insanely doable.