Adversity – Friend or Foe?

IMG_0559Many years ago my teacher told me this story.  

One morning a man boards a train for a multi-day, transcontinental trip. He brings with him much work to do and many books to read. After settling in, he goes about his work. Later, after a wholesome lunch, tiring of work and reading, he passes time by watching his fellow passengers.

The man notices the various sizes, shapes, colors, styles, and ages of the passengers. Some passengers are physically attractive, others gregarious, a few are standoffish. Some have means, others do not. No two are alike.

As the train chugs on, countryside hurrying by, the man continues to watch the passengers. One passenger in particular catches his eye. He notices that she lacks physical beauty, is not gregarious, or well kept. Yet something about her attracts him. Watching, the man seeks to give a name to her attractiveness. He struggles with the task. How to describe what he sees and feels? Ultimately he settles on peaceful confidence as an apt descriptor.

The peaceful confidence exudes from the manner she engages with passengers. It is there in the way she chats with other passengers. When she assists them with luggage or children. It is there as she offers her seat first to a weary parent then later to an elderly man. Even when she sits and looks out the window, she does so with utmost peace and confidence.

For one day, one night, and part of another day, the man watches the woman, marveling at her grace filled presence. He wonders why she, amongst all the passengers on the train, is the only one with such a presence. The question gnaws at him.

Unable to restrain himself, the man approaches the woman. He introduces himself. She graciously invites him to sit with her. After requisite and delightful chitchat, he recounts his observations, then asks, “What is the secret of your radiance?

The woman pauses. After a soft yet discernible chuckle, she replies, “Great adversity.”

Forty-three years have passed since this story was told to me by my teacher. Hardly a day goes by that I do not think about it. It has been a powerful lesson about how the rich soil of adversity can help the seeds of confidence and peace become strong plants. It has been my steadfast friend through during difficult times. Each time I encounter difficulties, my gratitude for my wise teacher grows.