I recently found myself drawing strength from speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One quote in particular caught my attention: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.”
As my short-term memory is often lacking, I wrote it on my bathroom mirror with a dry erase marker. Around the 27th reading, an unexpected realization dawned on me.
For most of my life I have held on to an irrational belief that life should be Easy. In the far reaches of my mind I even hazily visualized a group of people who “have it easy.” I am just waiting my turn.
I racked my brain for a reference point to explain this fairy tale. My own life has not been what I would call particularly easy. My family and friends have experienced their fair share of struggle. It is almost impossible to go an hour without the Internet or television informing me of ongoing hardships being endured worldwide.
People in the past struggled, too. History books would never be read with titles like “Ancient Civilizations: They Had it Pretty Easy!”
I am fully aware of these realities; I even finally copped to being an adult. Last week. On Facebook. So why does it feel as though I’ve been holding my breath my entire life, waiting for the day I will wake up to the giant Easy Button O’ Life hovering above my bed?
If babies truly unfurled from their mommies’ belly buttons after the mommy and daddy kiss, as I believed for far too long, it would be rational for me to believe that life should be similarly idyllic and pain-free. The term “circle of life” evokes a gentle, harmonious image, complete with an inspiring Elton John theme song.
Existence begins with a violent struggle, though. The similarly titled film, “The Miracle of Life” — my first horror movie — forced this gory fact upon me in fifth grade. Even seemingly invincible Mufasa met an untimely end in “The Lion King.”
I also know that hardship brings people together. Common struggle is a powerful uniter; one cannot relate without having first experienced. Appreciation is often the product of loss; gratitude transpires in the calm after a storm.
And yet, my delusion persisted?
I realized it had even overlapped onto my view of how relationships are “supposed to be.” The enduring, loving relationships that I idolize, however, have been wrought with struggle. I even made my own parable for these relationships, and it sounds anything but easy.
“Two saplings sprouted close together but just out of reach. The seedlings strained toward each other as they grew, delighting when their leaves finally brushed in the wind. As their branches began to intertwine, however, the roughness of their respective bark and the weakness of certain limbs became apparent.
“The two trees began to twist and contort as they struggled for sunlight and independence. When each began to give a little, however, and offered support where the other was lacking, a configuration formed in which both could drink the sunlight and grow. The gnarled trunks steadily fused together until it became unclear where one ended and the other began. This magnificent new tree, with two sets of deep roots, was far sturdier than either could have been alone.”
My attempt at hyperbole shows me that I know a true bond of love or friendship is one that is creased and wrinkled with time and experience — like the bark of a tree or the skin of our elders. Struggle, understanding, compromise, growth — this is the circle of life to me.
Today, therefore, I am ridding myself of that elusive mirage, the Easy Button O’ Life. I pledge to accept my imperfections and irregularities and forgive myself for failures. In doing so, I will cease to project them onto those around me. I will renew my gratitude for the support of my branches. I will face the future wiser, more prepared — but always hopeful.
I would still like to know where that Easy Button came from, though. Is it generational? Is it the media? Is it just … me?
I think I’ll take the easy out and blame Disney.
Melissa Frink is one of five reader columnists whose work appears on these pages. She lives in North Tacoma with her feline daughter, Moxie Moo Frink. She has no human children at this time. Email her at melissa.j.frink@ gmail.com.