Op Ed from the ED: The Gift of Struggle

It’s hard for us to admit that there are things beyond our control. As humans, we like to manage risks and buffer ourselves from uncomfortable situations. In doing so, we begin to think we are somehow not vulnerable, or that we can and should exist without discomfort. It is so disorienting when things beyond our control challenge this thinking.

When I was in college, I spent time winter camping in northern Vermont. Temperatures at night were well below zero. Traveling during the day was difficult in waist deep snow. My food was either frozen or burned, as I cooked over smoky, sad little campfires. And, let me tell you, re-hydrated, powdered refried beans never tasted so good! I struggled to keep my feet and hands warm. At times I was confused, frustrated, and unsure of myself, as I had to find my way using only a map and compass, no path to follow.

While uncomfortable as I was trying to survive for days in the winter wilderness, I also found deep peace and connection within myself and to the world around me. I was awestruck by the clear night sky that revealed so many stars, it looked cloudy. I experienced profound peace in the muffled, quiet stillness of the forest and the delicate beauty of the soft winter sunlight. I found gratitude for my breath and for the strength of my body, which carried me over the hilly terrain.

When we finally found our way back to campus, I remember it was as if I was experiencing hot food, a hot shower, and a comfortable, heated dorm room for the first time. I appreciated it on a level I had never felt before, and I’ve never taken these things for granted since. But, even more profound was my new appreciation for my own resilience and strength. The physical struggle, out in Nature, where I was not in control of anything, provided fertile ground for self-discovery. And, interestingly, the things I would have originally described as necessities–the hot shower, rich foods, comfortable warm bed–I now considered luxuries.

Daffodils in snow

Triumphs of the human spirit can be found anywhere there are struggles. In these struggles, we find access to our inner strength and deep connections to ourselves and others. As we struggle through this pandemic, may we find and celebrate what is truly important: our connections to the earth, to each other, and within ourselves. May we recognize the gift of struggle.

Anna Wilkins

-From my desk in Ashburnham, MA