Icicles teach us life lessons about adversity

This column was originally published as part of my “Looking Homeward” series at Herald-Dispatch.com.

Driving on highways that cut through layers of rock offers a beautiful scenic experience on these cold winter days. Streams patiently trickle down through unsuspecting earth to reveal an unspoken history.

Icicles of all shapes, sizes, and sorts join the landscape, providing a beauty that stimulates an appreciation of nature when it’s too cold to do anything else.

“What is that?” asks a small child, pointing to an icicle.

And we answer: “Frozen water, honey, just frozen water.”

Then we explain that dripping water becomes ice when the temperature drops below freezing.

But it is more.

“An icicle,” my father once wrote, “is working water stymied in its pursuit by a hostile environment.”

Now that’s a different definition! But it makes sense and can teach us a few things about dealing with adversity.

As the water moved through its life cycle, it was working its way through all sorts of obstacles: thick rocks, hard ground, big trees, strong roots and everything in God’s creation. Then something bigger than anything it ever met grabbed it, slowed it down and finally stopped it completely by making it solid, almost as solid as the rock it had just worked its way through.

The “something bigger” was its environment. Temperature. Freezing temperature. Something it had absolutely no control over, and something it could not defeat but merely react to.

The icicle is a frozen reminder that there are some things in life over which we have absolutely no control.

We cannot control all forces of nature. We cannot control all world events. We are at the mercy of many situations that happen in our world, and in turn to us.

We may be going about our “daily run of duty,” working our way through all sorts of obstacles with some degree of accomplishment. But then something comes along in our world environment that stops our pursuit and freezes us at a point.

Tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes or our own personal journeys into uncharted territories through no choice of our own can freeze us at a point in time. “Business as usual” is no longer an option. It seems that “everything nailed down is coming loose.”

Or frozen by unstoppable forces.

And all we can do is react in the best way we can.

Remember the icicle. Even with the pursuit of its purpose stopped, it gives beauty. It copes with a hostile environment, and in its coping, inspires us with its beauty and ability to be and do what it can with the circumstances it encounters.

As we move through the forces of life and nature that we cannot control, God grant that we shall, like the icicle, react as best we can to our hostile environment.

May our reaction to our changed environments, whether worldwide, openly public or deeply personal, inspire others with the beauty of our abilities to cope, whatever the circumstances.