When It’s Hard

Last night I was having a conversation about hardship with a client and dear friend. In the past we’ve discussed whether struggle and suffering are necessary in life. This recent conversation included details on our respective hard situations. We talked about things like “how we show up” for the struggle and how we “witness” others whom we care for deeply as they also go through the hardship. It appeared that we had agreement that hardship may result in creativity and can foster a sense of humor, though hardship is not a requirement for these qualities.

As I was walking home from the cafe where I had the conversation (oh sweet Internet connectivity), I recalled an e-mail I received a few days ago from another friend. She asked me “will you come home earlier than you had planned?” My first reaction was: “of course not!” That fierce independence and tenacity that resides deep in my bones was speaking for me. Then a fleeting, “hmmm…. that’s an option” floated through my being.

This is hard. Living in a developing country, with three young kids, is a challenge on many fronts. Sometimes it’s very enjoyable and interesting and relaxing (it’s a break from the normal routine, after all). Other times it’s confusing, frustrating and lonely.

This morning Brennan found a worm in the mango he was eating. He was a trooper and ditched the worm then continued eating, only to find another one. Mango in the garbage.

I have to ask others to wash my clothes for me and ask repeatedly whether or not they’re done. We’re a family of five who packed one week of clothes and are living in a town with dirt streets and mud puddles. Assistance with laundry will be frequent and humbling.

I can’t understand what people say to me after I pose a question. My carefully selected words uttered well enough to be understood, only to be answered with an onslaught of unfamiliar sounds. I can understand my Spanish teacher, why can’t I understand you?!

I don’t know where to buy a newspaper. Stamps are incredibly expensive. I cannot receive mail.

There is no printed schedule for the bus system and it doesn’t come at the times that bus drivers tell you it will. I was told 4 PM by one conductor, 4:30 PM by another. Then I was told by another passenger, after waiting for 40 minutes for the 4 PM bus, that it wouldn’t come until 6. Then the bus arrived at 4:50. Thankfully.

People try to sell us things, even when we haven’t left our house. Yesterday, a hurried man with hallowed eyes and sunken cheeks tried to sell us the hammock out of his house for $5. I debated whether to buy it just to be kind. We said no thank you, but felt sort of strange.

Jai signed all the Christmas cards that we mailed with “sorry I can’t say anything…. too home sick”. Rubi is spending her own money to buy dog food to feed the nursing mama dog and her tiny puppy who have taken to hanging out in front of our house. Rubi was shocked when she saw another girl picking fleas off the dog.

I use the bathroom in the middle of the night only when necessary, after turning on all the lights, and while actively scanning my surroundings for large flying insects.

“Why are you doing this?” Some folks asked me before we left for rural Ecuador. It was a frequent question and I found myself falling into a script. An easy response that will give people the information they need. We heard the Spanish is very pure…. they’re on the dollar…. we have contacts there…. we want to go to a secure and stable yet affordable Spanish-speaking country.

We humans tend to need a story. Why am I feeling this way? Why do I want this? Why did that person behave that way? Why did this happen? Give me a story so I can make meaning. It’s not enough just to witness.

Our story, our reasons for coming here are myriad. Perspective. Adventure. Change. Learning. Growth. Bonding.

Our story, our reasons for staying are more complicated. One shall never quit. One shall do what she says she will. One shall stay strong and persevere. Emotions and experiences fluctuate. The hardship vacillates. Yet one shall stay focused. Success only comes after the goal has been achieved.

These are my stories. The meanings I attach to the why something happens, the why someone does something, the why of reality.

What other stories exist? This is a question I’ve been exploring with my coaching clients frequently. What else is there? What other options exist? Is it really just this or that, one or the other? When we think creatively, unattached to a specific outcome, what do we think of?

Hardship occurs when we attach ourselves to a certain outcome. Suffering is the result of human attachment to a certain way of being. Things can be easy and we can still have learning, growth, adventure, and bonding.

What opportunities exist from hardship? Indeed, creativity, growth and the development of a sense of humor. But what about flexibility? Must one become rigid within the hardship; fixated on the belief that if things aren’t hard then they are not working?

Today I am toying with the idea of cutting our stay here in rural Ecuador a bit short. We are all holding on with our heart strings for the visit from my mom and nephew. After that, we will still have 3 more weeks to live here. See above partial list of difficulties.

For what purpose shall we continue to stay here after 6 weeks? By then we will have participated in the culture in some ways, built some relationships, experienced school and had a generous helping of the way of life. So much beauty here and a reminder of how the majority of the world lives. Then what? Shall we persevere just for the sake of staying the path? Or shall we ask ourselves “what else is there?”.

Perseverance and doing what is hard cannot come from a place of “just suck it up.” When it comes from that place of resentment and shame, then it saps all prospect of creativity, humor and growth. It begins to have the flavor of bitterness and look like worms coming out of what once was sweet. Perseverance must come from a place of choice; a place of joy in the work. When that’s gone, then it’s time to look for a different story.

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3 Responses to “When It’s Hard”

  1. Deborah Stricklan says:

    I’m thinking, if nothing else, we should bring you more clothes and a flea collar. Hope we can bring the little piece of home with us that you are longing for.

  2. Ellenrstines says:

    Oops…I replied to this blog post on a much earlier one. Thinking of you with love.

  3. Thanks Ellen. I saw your original comment. I appreciate your feedback and all the loving kindness you send.

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