The struggle and the beauty


this picture, which I took yesterday morning and shared on Instagram, reminds me of the photograph below

I have written about how I listen to On Being podcasts in the morning when I run.  I do so at 1.5x, a detail that Matt thinks is a metaphor for my whole life.  Last week, I listened to Brene Brown talking with Krista Tippett.  She said many things that made me think, but among them was the assertion that “hope is a function of struggle.”  She goes on: “You know, the moments I look back in my life and think, God, those are the moments that made me, were moments of struggle.”

I agree with this on an instinctual level.  It also reminded me instantly of Freud’s beautiful quote that “the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful,” and of this much-less beautiful post I wrote many years ago on the topic.  It seems fitting to repost it here today.  I’m aware that Matt and I are coming to the end of the particular season of struggle I wrote about and had in mind.  Our years with young children at home are short, and their challenges are different now, less physical, more emotional.  Of course the closing of this struggle will usher in new ones, and they’ve already begun to.

It has been six years almost exactly since I wrote this post (7/26/10).  The landscape of my life looks very different from it did that day.  But in other, essential ways, it is precisely the same.  The guiding principles and, yes, struggles, are unchanged. The beauty still exists in those struggles.  I know that even more surely know.

“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”
– Sigmund Freud

Many thanks to Anthony Lawlor, from whom I found this quote on Twitter. I do believe this to be true, absolutely, though it’s so incredibly difficult to remember in the moments where the struggle seems overwhelming. The struggle which occurs for me on so many levels these days. The struggle to stop my crazy squirrel brain from frantically spinning over and over on the same questions. The struggle to remain patient and present with my lovely children who can be charming, curious, and incredibly aggravating. The struggle not to over-identify with Grace, to maintain the distance and perspective I need to parent her well. The struggle not to crush Whit’s effervescent spirit, whose enthusiastic bubbles sometimes challenge the rules and norms. The struggle to try to keep alive my professional and creative selves, as well as to have enough left over for those who need me.

“These are the day of miracle and wonder”
– Paul Simon

For some reason that lyric was in my head nonstop this weekend. My subconscious was trying to remind me of the richness of the present moment, I suspect, which can be so hard to really see.

It was a weekend with plenty of struggle as well as ample beauty. Somehow the struggle is so quick to occlude the beauty, so much more urgent and immediate, so hard to shake off. Does this make sense? It is here, on the page, and through the lens of my camera that I am more able to see the beauty. It rises more slowly, over time, asserting itself in memory rather than in the vivid moment. The beauty is in the smallest moments, infinity opening, surprising me every time, from the most infinitessimal things, like a world in the back of a wardrobe (there really are only two or three human stories, and we do go on telling them, no?). Why is it, then, that the struggles, also often small, can so quickly and utterly yank me back to the morass of misery and frustration, away from the wonders that are revealed in the flashing moments of beauty?

I wish I could change the dynamic between these two, but the beauty, fragile as it is in the moment, seems sturdier over the long arc of a life. Freud’s quote supports this, the notion that the beauty develops over time, like a print sitting in the solution for a long time, image gradually forming on the slick surface of the photo paper, slowly, haltingly hovering into being. It is, of course, the photograph that is the enduring artifact of the experience.

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  1. Nadine
    Posted July 11, 2016 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing this post again. We are about a decade behind you and headed into this period of struggle, and this weekend was a case in point. Wallpaper removal, trying to get organized, the list of things that did not get done much longer than that that did. Time with my almost 2-year-old challenging and exhausting, but then he takes my face in both of his hands and kisses me, or demands that I sit on the “wing” next to him so we can swing in unison. I’m suspecting if and when I think back to this particular weekend, it’s the latter that will remain while right now the struggles seem so much more prominent.

  2. Posted July 11, 2016 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    Ah. I needed this one this morning, this week!

  3. Posted July 11, 2016 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Everything you write lately is becoming my favorite. A hearty yes to all of it. And I love and remember the older post (although how has it been 6 years????) The struggle is quick to occlude the beauty – oh how I wish this weren’t true but it is for me. I feel this keenly in the evenings when I am tired and just wanting to stop all the noise and clutter that I sometimes forget how lovely the day has been.

    And what you wrote about struggle. I am in awe of your ability to precipitate out the truth so elegantly. I hate moving as you know, but when I look back, those uncertain times are always sharp and beautiful and raw.

  4. Dan
    Posted July 11, 2016 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing

  5. Posted July 11, 2016 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful post.

  6. Posted July 14, 2016 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    Beautiful post and by the way, I also listen to podcasts on 1.5. So many to get through! (And yes, kind of a metaphor for life.)