Life’s hardships pave the road to discovery

This column was originally published as part of my “From Where I Sit” series at in Towson Times.

His hand-written words snagged my skimming eyes, forcing me to back up on the statement three times.

“May the questions of life never stop you from seeking the answers, and even if you can’t find the answers, just remember that ‘knowing the real questions of life’ is often more important than easy answers.”

And then the zinger, the sentence that launched my mental rewind loop.

“The harder you find life,” my father wrote, “the more life you’ll find.”

My father was a wise man.

He had inscribed those words 28 years ago in the front of Harry Emerson Fosdick’s book, “Dear Mr. Brown, Letters to a Person Perplexed about Religion.” He had given the book to my sister several months after our 17-year-old brother’s death from a water-skiing accident.

And life was hard. For a long time, life was very hard for all of us as we tried to find answers to unanswerable questions.

Yet, as I reflect upon my father’s thoughts today, I do believe we discovered a richness of life through a deepened appreciation of each other and our precious time together that perhaps we had taken for granted before our brother’s death.

With effort, we healed and grew.

Unused coping muscles flexed time and time again as we adjusted our daily routines to include unexpected, unwelcomed and unwanted changes.

We fought for rhythms, routines and a sense of balance that sent our roots down deep into the soil of living, looking for nourishment.

And yes, perhaps we found “more life.”

As parents, we often find ourselves in situations where our children and their circumstances are unlike ourselves and our experiences. We find life hard as we search to meet their needs, nurture their talents and prepare them for independence on roads we have not traveled.

“I don’t get it,” a child tells us when struggling with homework, and we may find ourselves in the world of tutors and specialized instruction.

“I’m bored,” a child tells us verbally or behaviorally in the classroom, and we may find ourselves in search of a more challenging environment to stimulate a gifted mind.

And then there is the child who doesn’t talk at all, and we may find ourselves in the complex world of disability.

When my oldest son had seizures at 3 months of age, I had trouble giving him the prescribed phenobarbital.

“How do other parents do it?” I asked the pediatric neurologist, thinking she may have some special technique to get the baby to swallow the bitter medicine.

“In my experience,” she said as she looked intently in my eyes, “it is the sheer will of the parent.”

Great, I remember thinking. That’s no help at all. I wanted instruction, and she gave me philosophy.

But she was right. Over the years, that philosophy yielded the practical instruction I needed.

Our wills provide the engines in our lives that keep us moving along our journeys into uncharted territories. Granted, some of us develop more shock absorbers than others, as we find “more life” than most with our hardships.

But it is our wills that keep us moving, no matter the magnitude of our circumstance.

Hand-written notes and intently delivered advice can energize our journeys, reminding us that a good life may be best lived with a steadfast quest for answers and a strong will.

And when life throws us challenges beyond our comfort zone and experience, where easy answers elude us, we can rest assured that the harder you find life, the more life you’ll find.

And for some, there is a lot to discover.