"Sweet is the use of adversity" is how Shakespeare put it. I've been thinking lately about this.. at least in American culture, we admire those who stoically endure, or even thrive, in times of adversity. And is there any doubt that character, like any other strength or weakness, can only grow when tested?
What put this in my mind was the plight of a friend of mine - who's nursed her mother through cancer, only to miss her dying while out of town, and returned to Philadelphia jobless and without prospects. But, she's managed to turn that around - she works freelance enough to pay the bills, has inherited some money, and lives in a nice apartment with her mom's cat. She has an incredibly active social life, and is an excellent dancer and very active in the swing dance community. She's well educated, very pretty, and smart as a whip. She travels all over the place - and in general, from what I can see, leads what looks like a very active and fulfilling life. But she's miserable because she doesn't have a boyfriend.
Now I don't think it really has to do with a boyfriend - I think it's a matter of emotional support and stability, and the loss of her mother has understandably left a void in that department. So, because we always give each other advice about life and whatnot, I suggested that she really tire herself out with some vigorous exercise. I, personally, get a sense of perspective on life when my body is complaining that is missing when I'm sedentary. The act of engaging in punishing physical effort cleanses the mind of petty concerns like oh.... getting one's broken TiVo repaired.
And it occurs to me that sport is a means by which we manufacture a manageable adversity to overcome, and therefore feel stronger. The adversity that the world throws at us, we have no control over - it's test is for really real, and if we fail,we die. Athletic is a way to study for that test - we plunge ourselves into exertion and challenge - and when we emerge triumphant and improved, we know our capacity to endure the adversity in the world is also stronger.
I'll try and keep that in mind next time I'm procrastinating to get out the door to go running or riding.
So, after my elation of last night, I got up early this morning and prepped for a bike ride in to work. I wandered all over the house looking for the big sack of batteries I got for my mp3-cd player, and couldn't find it anywhere. Frustrated, I left, determined to do my best Lance Armstrong impression on Kelly Drive. I stopped to grab a great book I'm reading from the front seat of the car (The Arms of Nemesis by Steven Saylor, part of his Roma Sub Rosa series) and noticed that someone had taken a dump in the grass next to my car. It was clearly not a dog, either.
Then when I walked back over to my bike, I realized that I'd stepped in it.
Lovely start to the day... fortunately I had a change of sneaks up stairs, so I took these ones off, threw them into the back yard to dry out before I clean them off, and headed back out again. Why on earth would someone poop next to the sidewalk? I mean jeez- where they went is right next to a stand of trees that's far more private - and right under a street light, too. Disgusting!
But, I guess that was my little nugget (so to speak) of adversity this morning. I hopped on Samsara, and pushed really hard to get into to work and did it in 30:58, which is about nine minutes faster than my previous record. I never shifted out of my tallest gear, not even on the uphills. Not a bad ride. One of these days I've got to figure out how far it actually is.