November 4, 2005

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Facing a challenge when we see one

There’s this old dog, who lives down the road from us, who sees every passing car as a challenge. He’s shaggy and a bit unkempt, and we think he used to be white, but then he probably used to be a lot of things he’s not any more. Still, he knows an enemy when he sees one.

He lies in the middle of the road and, when he hears a car approaching, he lurches to his feet and prepares to take it on. We’ve had to perfect the skill of gauging how far he’ll chase us and how close he’ll run beside us, to avoid hitting him. It seems that both these distances are as mysterious to him as they are to us, so we’re always relieved when we see him still alive, disappearing in our rear-view mirror.

There’s another doggie who lives on the road, an equally aged beagle, who also likes to sleep in the middle of the lane. He doesn’t chase cars, but merely stands up to show he’s aware that you’re passing. Often, he balances on three legs while scratching his tummy reflectively with one hind leg. Apparently, he doesn’t find cars a challenge to his doghood.

Observing these two, I realized that humans are a lot like animals in a certain way: Some of us see life events as a challenge, but others are either oblivious to them or deny they may be a threat. Some of us meet them wisely, others inappropriately and still others don’t meet them at all.

There are people who experience great trials, such as the death of children or spouses, chronic illness or poverty. Some of them react with grace, always in prayerful contact with God while taking human advice, support and comfort gratefully. They don’t pity themselves and they don’t allow others to pity them either.

These are the people who often seem to “overcome” their difficulties because they make the rest of us feel good even when their situations don’t change much. Somehow, they’ve defused the challenges they face because of faith that God will someday make all things clear and because of their love for others.

Then there are folks who seem to be making a career out of their problems, not sensing anyone else’s needs because they feel only their own pain. They’re so focused on “me” that they’re hurt when friends become inattentive and unwilling to enable them in their despondence.

Some people see challenges where others do not. They become hugely upset because the paper isn’t delivered on time or the baby misbehaves and has to be taken out of church. Meanwhile, the man next door loses his job of 20 years or fire destroys the home of the family down the street. The human definition of challenge seems subjective, to say the least.

There are people who use denial to combat challenge. They simply don’t acknowledge that something might be a threat, such as miscommunication in marriage leading to divorce, or irresponsible behavior leading to addiction or other abuse. In the end, they may even act surprised when threat becomes reality.

Perhaps God established challenges to give us a chance to exercise our free will. Perhaps ultimately, the grief we experience, the struggles, the dilemmas of choice, may turn out to be the most rewarding times of our lives. Or not.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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