Against the Wind – Finding Strength in Adversity

kite“Kites rise highest against the wind – not with it.” Winston Churchill

“The world breaks everyone, and afterwards, some are strong at the broken places.” Ernest Hemingway

Last week I urged we accept that change will come. However, while  it can be an irresistible force, that doesn’t mean we should never fight it.

We don’t have to, nor should we, be passive about our life directions, just carried about by winds not of our making, pushed in directions that aren’t acceptable to us. Not every change is good. Sometimes the good comes in the struggle against it, even when we lose.

Churchill was wise. It’s often when we pit ourselves against the wind that we grow the most, and in times of trial that we learn the most about who we are and who we aren’t.

Exterior view of Biosphere 2, an attempt to cr...

Exterior view of Biosphere 2, an attempt to create a closed, artificial ecosystem. Today, it is a tourist attraction. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was made real to me through the Biosphere 2 experiment. In 1991, in the Arizona desert, it was created to be a perfect sustainable environment. The right amount of sunlight, an ideal quantity of food, and optimal rainfall were provided so that the plants could reach their maximum potential.  And the result: failure.

Before the trees could mature and reproduce, they fell over and died in this perfect world.  And the reason has always made me rejoice: the trees needed some adversity in order to thrive.  The Biosphere had wind treesbeen created as an ideal place, stress-free, without a wind. With nothing pushing their branches, challenging the endurance of the trees, no struggle to reach deep for water or food, they had not developed strong roots. When they reached their full height, they were perfectly straight – but they fell over from their own weight.  Ungrounded and lacking the depth created by adversity, they could not sustain perfection. And the people there did as poorly as the trees, more Lord of the Flies than return to The Garden of Eden.

Candle in broken glass copyIf you find it odd that I would rejoice at this outcome, then you may not yet know that I worked as a social worker with victims of abuse and domestic violence.  This story helped both me and my clients know surviving through tough experiences can create strength. The week I would tell it, I would bring in two candle holders. Both were red. One was made of broken pieces of red glass. The other was smooth, solid, and intact. When I lit them, the strength in broken places was evident. The light striking the angles of the bits and pieces of glass was refracted into from one piece to the next and magnified. The light shone much brightly through restoration than perfection.

Perhaps this is a perspective that all of us can hang onto. As Friedrich Nietzsche  famously said, and Kelly Clarkson turned into a song, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”  Link:

Turns out that this idea was not just a philosophical conjecture, but an empirical truth, proved by the trees in the Biosphere.

My mother had a witty saying for almost every situation. One that was always accompanied with a shrug when I was spouting off about the need to stand up and right world wrongs was “You can’t always fight city hall.” She would tell me that sometimes “to get along I had to go along” and that I should “let sleeping dogs lie unless I was prepared to be bitten.”  Millie was the daughter of immigrants who had not always found the road smooth in front of them. But her adjectives and clauses were important modifiers to her parent’s truths. (Ok, ok, yes, I do teach English!)

For underneath she had a spine of steel. Millie did not “take things lying down.” I came to learn she rarely shrugged off adversity. She stood up for herself and others, and if she was bitten for her stand, she could take it. My favorite saying of hers was:  “If you make a doormat out of yourself don’t be surprised if people wipe their feet on you.” My mother was no doormat. Neither am I.  I became stronger because I followed her example.

Still some winds blow with hurricane force. Illness, injury, the loss of a loved one, unemployment, financial loss, can slam us so low it is hard to rise. And yet, it is the rising that strengthens us.

windmillI always feel inspired when Don Quixote says, “Not well? What is illness to the body of a knight-errant? What matter wounds? For each time he falls, he shall rise again, and woe to the wicked.” It may be idealistic and perhaps foolish, but this sentiment is energizing and well-directed. It motivates me to get up and struggle onward.

Can we defeat every wind? No. Some we do need to endure. Sometimes we need to hunker down, take shelter, and let them blow over. But even then, when they are past, we need to pick ourselves back up and fix what needs fixing in the aftermath.

dandelionOften what keeps us going then is the strength we’ve gained tilting at earlier windmills. We may well be bitten if we do something to stand in the face of the wind but we won’t be defeated, not if we hold on strong to what we believe in. Yes, another important modifying clause, my addition to my mother’s legacy. For me this means family, friends, and faith. But whatever it is, we need a counterweight so we don’t get so caught up in the wind that we can’t find our way home. When we do fight, we need to stay grounded in what’s important, like a kite tied to a strong line.

hang-gliderI believe we are all stronger than we think, especially at the broken places.  So don’t be afraid of life’s storms, stay anchored to your roots, and face and ride the winds of your fate. Besides, what could be better than when we are lifted up and energized by running against the wind. Just know I’ll run with you. I promise.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

About joanneeddy

Writer living in North Carolina. Originally from upstate New York. I love my family, my community, and my friends, and embrace 'living deliberately' in the world, trying to make a difference. I have written an as yet unpublished book, The Call, an epic fantasy with historical fiction and folklore elements. My blog is for other writers, for those who love a good read, and for all who, like me, are looking to find and live their call.
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2 Responses to Against the Wind – Finding Strength in Adversity

  1. G. Douglas Eddy says:

    Both are excellent. Very moving. Sent the first one to Allen. But I ain’t bited you in ages woof woof woof – see – me bark is worse than me bite ;-P

    The Rev. Dr. G. Douglas Eddy, pastor 1st. Presbyterian Church of Edenton, NC 302 West Queen Street Edenton, NC 27932

    (252) 482-4105 – home – primary (252) 722-3427 – cell (252) 482-3332 – office

    The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. Martin Luther King Jr.


  2. Pingback: Going to Ground – On Meditation and Finding a Center | joanneeddy's blog

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