The transformative power of adversity

Mary - Marshalltown, Iowa
Entered on April 7, 2009

It was the night before my father’s funeral and I sat at the table, pen in hand, contemplating what to write. There had been no warning, just a phone call that he had passed. I needed a goodbye – some sort of closure on a relationship that had been complicated ever since he left my mother when I was eight years old.

I thought I needed to say “I forgive you” but to my surprise I wrote my father a letter of thanks.

The hurt I felt as a child had been replaced with a sense of what living through the experience had produced in me. In large measure I owed some of the things I liked best about myself – my strong independence and my deep commitment to the welfare of others – to my father and his decision to leave.

I believe in the transformative power of adversity.

I believe adversity makes you dig deep inside and draw upon reserves you never knew you had. It has a way of strengthening you and softening you at the same time. Sometimes you discover things about yourself you hadn’t realized. Things you like. Things you consider worth all the muck you had to slog through to find them. As a community organizer, I saw it all the time. It was facing a threat that awakened, even ignited something in people. Amid frustration, anger, fear and struggle, people came into their own.

So when my husband and I struggled to become pregnant and eventually miscarried, there was a part of me that felt a sort of anticipation. How would this change me? Who would I become? Looking back now, I can see that this experience widened my heart to children. It gave me the determination to pursue adoption – something I had always been interested in. And it made both my husband and me feel incredibly lucky. This experience – this adversity – granted us the privilege of knowing and raising a remarkable boy named Alex who came to us via Guatemala. Our family could not feel more right.

Interestingly, his arrival added a new dimension to my belief. I believe my job as a parent is to let my son face adversity. Though my natural inclination is to protect him, I think to do so in many instances is counterproductive.

Recently, I took a class about gardening. I learned that people who water their lawn frequently and lightly actually do it a disservice. It isn’t until grass has been stressed to the point of wilt that it will deepen its root system enough to survive a drought.

I want my son to develop deep roots. I want him to survive the inevitable droughts life has in store. So I hope when he’s struggling that instead of stepping in, I’ll step back and merely share the words a very wise woman – my mother – used to share with me. “That which does not kill us, only makes us stronger”.