You See? The Impossible Is Easier than the Difficult
Today, January 20, is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the United States. Commemorating the heroic leadership and enlightened wisdom of one of the world’s greatest civil rights leaders, whose struggle for equal rights for blacks (and all people) in America continues today.
The quote by Daniel Barenboim, “You see? The impossible is easier than the difficult,” is from the moment when the King of Spain granted diplomatic visas to all of the members of Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Youth Orchestra so these young musicians from Israel, Palestine, Iran, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan could play a concert together in Ramallah, Palestine at a time when they couldn’t visit each other’s countries on their own visas.
We continue to sign up for impossible dreams in 2020, the year of clear seeing and renewed hope. We’re inspired by the great leaders of the past like Dr. King, like Mahatma Gandhi gaining India’s independence from British colonial rule, Nelson Mandela enduring years of imprisonment on Robbin Island, ultimately breaking the rule of apartheid in South Africa.
We’re inspired now by an autistic Danish teenager, Greta Thunberg in her call-to-action speech at the U.N. General Assembly’s Climate Action Summit. Or by a young woman growing up isolated and uneducated in Idaho who schools herself and earns a PhD. at Cambridge University in England. (See New York Times best-seller Educated by Tara Westover.)
And we find the courage to face and cope with our own more personal impossible situations: the long and heartbreaking recovery from a stroke, the forgiveness of a heart-breaking betrayal of trust by the person the closest to us, the striving from poverty and discrimination to gain a toe-hold in a home of our own.
I’ve carried this quote by F. Scott Fitzgerald that I’ve posted at the beginning of the new year well into the new year with me:
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
That determination is a key ingredient in our resilience, recognized by modern researchers and sages from the ages.
Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere. -Barack Obama
I teach that stress, adversity, difficulties are all cues to practice, strengthen, recover our resilience. That’s not always easy to live out in real life. The curse of chronic pain that is not going to get better, the pain of a child killed in a senseless car accident – that pain is not ever going to fully go away.
Yet the human spirit is called, again and again, to respond to the seemingly impossible with effort and faith in that effort. From my own experience, from exemplar role models, from the stories shared by clients and students from literally around the world, I suggest:
1. Identify one impossible cause (the upcoming presidential elections, climate change, maintaining personal health and vitality) and chunk it down. Break it down into manageable steps that are workable, doable.
2. Enlist the help and support of others who share a willingness to work in common cause. Canvassing the neighborhoods in a group, organizing a community beach/park/highway clean-up day, recruiting an exercise buddy that will run the hills or run the treadmill with you.
3. Be inspired by role models who have endured and triumphed over far worse. One of my personal favorites: Eleanor Roosevelt, a stellar role model of resilience, coping with the hardships of the Great Depression, the fearful tragedies of World War II, and the infidelity of a husband who happened to be president of the United States, who said,
You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop and look fear in the face.
4. Find the meaning and joy in the effort itself, day by day, not just in an outcome reached only after years or decades of effort. Trusting, as Thomas Merton says, “…in the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.”
5. Celebrate every step taken in the marathon. A friendly conversation with someone from the other side of our ethnic/political/religious divisions. A group of young kids who spontaneously join your clean-up party. Running farther with less effort than ever before in your life.
In every community there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart there is the power to do it.
– Marianne Williamson