The title is Latin for “Life is short, but trouble makes it longer.” Recently I was reminded of the power and blessing of adversity. One of the comments that struck me was, “You will all experience your own Gethsemane’s.” Gethsemane is a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives and became famous in the New Testament for the place where Jesus went to pray and, according to the New Testament, completed the atonement. Gethsemane remains a symbol of hope for people experiencing trouble, difficulty, or adversity. However, the thought of us experiencing our own Gethsemane individually intrigues me as a concept.
One of the scriptures that holds a lot of hope for me comes from the Doctrine and Covenants Section 121 7-9:
7 My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;
8 And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.
9 Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands.
Nowhere is recorded how long Jesus spent in Gethsemane; one might presume the time was longer than an hour, but less than 8 hours. Beyond that, I cannot guess and will not venture an opinion. However, the thought that adversity will be but a small moment rings like an eternal truth in my mind. Let me elaborate on this point, my wife and I spent 6-months homeless, living out of our car, showering at her mom’s apartment, and working as often as I could find work. During this time, I was studying for a master’s in business administration and struggling with depression for feeling like an absolute failure for not being able to provide a home for my spouse.
Yet, as I look back on this homelessness period, it seems but a small moment. While I know mentally that the timeframe was six excruciating months, the truth is that the adversity felt like a moment even during the adversity and the months following. My friends found during this time were such an incredible solace; my wife’s family and even my studies became lifts to my spirit and a balm to my mental processes. How grateful I am for the adversity that has shaped me since this event and the incredible people who supported my wife and me.
Interestingly, in M*A*S*H 4077, the final episode “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen,” the poignancy of Father Mulcahy’s predicament with losing his hearing has become more meaningful since this episode of homelessness. Indeed life is lived forward and understood backward. As Father Mulcahy said, “What good is a deaf priest?” The value is found in learning and living, but the learning and living is the adversity shaping us physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Long have I pondered what a piece of clay must think as it is placed on a potter’s wheel, and if it realizes that when the potter is done, the adversity on that wheel will make it something beautiful, useful, or both. Whether you believe in god, God, or gods, what are the adversities in your life making out of you, and will you recognize yourself when the potter is done? Will you care what the potter has made you? Those two questions lay on my mind, not with weight, but nonetheless with power. A final question struck me as Father Mulcahy was marrying Klinger and Sun Lee, will we respect the potter for the work invested in creating us through adversity?
It’s no secret to those who have known me that I did not like serving in the US Navy and the pressure cooker of the USS Barry (DDG 52) from 2000-2004. I have often cursed and shook my fist at the sky over the experiences during the US Navy. Yet, even now, the experiences in the US Navy are felt as a small moment, and time does help heal wounds. Better still, time tends to soften the edges, and one of the other things I have found is that how we choose changes how we remember. I loved being “haze grey and underway” in the navy. Many things were better while sailing that worsened to the point of breaking while in port. More to the point, being “haze grey and underway” was always an adventure, fun, and never dull, even while pulling five and dime watch standing, doing maintenance on a pitching deck, or even climbing the mast while underway to fix something broke.
Major Winchester leaving M*A*S*H in a garbage truck reminds me of my time in the US Navy, very appropriate. As soon as Major Winchester came to M*A*S*H 4077, I watched to see what pranks could be done to Major Charles Emerson Winchester the third. I loved watching Charles become the butt of a joke. Yet, even as I type, I cannot help but wonder, was a garbage truck appropriate; is it disrespectful of the potter to see another person struggle and heap more scorn upon them? Charles’ life changed dramatically and horribly; his ways of thinking, the path of his life, and even his belief in his own self-worth were constantly challenged and scrutinized. I can understand Charles’ experiences more now than at any time previously.
Having been homeless multiple times in my life, one of my greatest difficulties is seeing someone putting up their petition for help and not being able to help. I know there are a lot of scams out there, but that has never mattered to me; not being able to help bothers me greatly. The war in Ukraine, the orphans left after war and storms, the hunger and depravity in this world, those individual adversities we see all around us. I always want to help. Long have I thought if I could relieve an ounce, a dram, a smidge of suffering, I could sleep better at night or know I succeeded at something. Life has taught me how to fight, then it taught me how to think, and then my body was injured, and I am left stuck somewhere in between—proving that adversity comes in many shapes, colors, sizes, and types!
Please know, I am not maudlin or melancholy about my life. I have some great stories, met some truly amazing people, and lived to tell those tales. All I ever wanted out of life was to be “an interesting old person,” and if I can keep reading and thinking, and especially writing, I should be able to tell some of those stories. If I died tomorrow, I could say I lived a rich, full life, with no regrets. I have no complaints and look forward to learning a lot more. Bringing up another exciting facet of adversity, the learning that comes through adversity.
For example, did you know you do not teach adults? Anyone who tells you differently does not know what they are talking about. Teaching only happens to children, and if those kids are like me, barely even then. For adults, you help them see their life experiences in a new light, applying existing knowledge to current situations to improve how they think. You do not teach adults; they teach themselves; as an adult educator, my job is to help them learn how to think.
I know a kid, now an adult, who had been molested, beaten, and suffered greatly. Growing into a scrappy adult, this child had experienced the horrible and survived. Sure, you might teach this kid how to reach a formulaic solution, but the core knowledge of life, this kid held a doctorate. Adversity had trained this kid how to think, how to act, how to understand, and how to fight back. While other kids learned how to wield a bat and hit a ball, this kid was learning how to throw punches, duck, dodge, and handle pain. While some kids learned how to cook, this kid already knew how to cook and could make meals out of practically anything. Adversity taught this kid, and the student was worthy of the master’s teachings how I have longed to be as apt a pupil to adversity’s teachings as this kid.
When considering the potter, as we are placed upon the wheel, then into a kiln, are we clay, easily molded, or a rock choosing to be chased off the potter’s wheel for refusing to change and be moldable? A young adult uttered the saddest commentary on life I have ever heard. My father did it this way; his father did it this way; his father did it this way; going back as far as family memory can relate, I am doing it this way. When I saw the stubbornness of this person, I felt like weeping for the potential lost to generations who choose not to change. Adversity gets us asking questions; for me, those questions are always about how I improve—improving myself, a process, an environment, the situation, anything that can be changed to drive improvements.
Another book referred to the “captivity of the fathers.” In the movie “Fiddler on the Roof,” Tevia sings the song of “Tradition!” Is adversity trying to tell us there is a better way, and tradition is trying to hold us back? In previous articles, I discussed how a friend of mine related that he is the first generation of his family who could read, and his children and grandchildren are graduating college because as a child, he was forced onto a bus, driven to Oklahoma, and forced into school and off the Indian reservation. He experienced traumatic adversity as a child of seven. The blessing of that adversity has lived and made him every day since, but to make him, the traditions of his fathers had to be forced out of his mind by formal education hundreds of miles from his northern Arizona home. I weep for that little boy but cheer for the man he became and cherish my friendship with a man who had to justify two worlds. Beware the traditions of your fathers so they do not become captivity your children must suffer to escape.
Not for any other purpose than trying and making the adversarial moment something I do not have to repeat. I have repeated too many adversarial moments; there must be a better way to live! For example, I was forced into bankruptcy twice! I hope to learn from my mistakes, and if anyone knows how to raise money, improve earnings, and live more fully within one’s means, I am all ears! If you know how to monetize a website, I will trade for this knowledge and assistance. Bringing up another powerful tool of adversity, placing us into situations where we can help and will choose to be helped.
One of the reasons why some adversarial incidents last as long as they do is because we are proud people, and giving help is easier than accepting help and multitudes of times easier than asking for help. My first time homeless, I had to get off the streets as walking the streets all night was interfering with my ability to work a complete shift. Plus, it was cold, and those nights in Auburn, Washington in October and November were miserable! So, I asked for help from a church, and asking for help was one of the most challenging events in my life. In fact, asking for help has never gotten easier with time or experience. I would rather get beat with a brick stick than ask for help; is it any wonder that pride is one of the seven deadly sins?
To ask for help, I felt I needed to have a plan to repay the money. I demanded that I stick with that repayment schedule, even after being told, very kindly, that I did not have to repay and that there was no debt to repay. How often do we make the pains and problems of adversity worse because we struggle to ask for help or feel a need to repay debts when there are no debts? The reality is that when adversity appears to drag on and on without end, being a relentless taskmaster, many times I am the problem making adversity worse.
Bring us back to that garden near the Mount of Olives and the suffering of Jesus Christ. Leaving me with a final question, how do I know when enough is sufficient? I do not know how to answer this question, nor am I sure I am asking the right question; I merely know that adversity is not occurring because the intelligence’s of the universe want to see me struggle, adversity is not happening because I committed a crime or deserved being punished. Adversity is a tool that helps us gain strength and I am weak, and the only way to get my attention is to put me in situations where I can grow through the things I suffer. But help is always available; this is another lesson adversity teaches. Help, assistance, support, we are not left bereft of these in our times of need, and this is a comfort and a hope.
Let us choose to be more charitable, relieve suffering where we can, ask for help when we need, and choose to make today a little better than yesterday through our involvement in the world around us. I am not asking anyone to go broke helping those putting up their petitions, and it does not matter where the money goes. Be the hand reaching out, and you WILL always find a hand reaching out to you; this is the final lesson adversity teaches us.
© Copyright 2022 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images. Quoted materials remain the property of the original author.