My grandfather was a great storyteller. When he told or retold a tale from his youth, he didn’t just say the words. Instead, he painted a vivid picture that lingered long after you had heard his narration of the events. There was always a valuable lesson in them too.
On one of my visits to him, while I was in my teens, he told me one of those stories that have stayed with me and shaped my very being.
“In my youth,” he started, “I was regarded as one of the best hunters among the boys in my village.”
Every so often alongside 6 to 10 young men, he would go to the bushes and they would compete to see who brought home the largest game. Hares were the prized trophy back then. They were still plentiful and would easily be found in the farms, nesting in the small depressions among the tall grass. But they are fast creatures, and skittish too. The challenge, according to him, was never spotting them, but getting close enough before you startled them into a dash.
The tools for the hunt were a homemade bow and a few arrows. Although all the bows looked the same, my grandfather knew that his was a little bit different and that is what gave him an advantage.
Every young man had to curve and bend his own bow from a tree of his choosing and it was an artform they all took great pride in. My grandfather was always the slowest in making a new bow, often to the amusement of his friends. He knew this too but didn’t mind the ridicule, the hunting ground would favour him later.
If you are not familiar with traditional homemade bows, allow me to share a simple property to look out for when determining if a bow is good or not. A good bow is one that can be bent the most without breaking, A GREAT one is one that can not only bend but flexes back to its original shape even after many draws.
To make a great bow, one needs wood from a strong tree. My grandfather understood that the strongest trees in the forest aren’t the ones that are most protected; they are those that must struggle against the elements and surmount them to survive.
There were two large oak trees near his home. Each of the oak trees stood isolated in the open fields, exposed to the full force of brazing sun and blasts of wind. These two trees that had strained against nature were far tougher and stronger than the protected ones that clustered together in a neighbouring forest.
While the other young men preferred wood from the trees in the forest because it was easy to work with, my grandfather chose different. It was with the branches from these two trees that had struggled most, that he fashioned his bows.
The bows were made by first carving and smoothening the edges of the branches then bending the branch. Bending was done against the trunk of a tree, by pushing and pulling the ends until it got to the desired shape. The process would take a few hours or even a few days depending on the type of wood used.
The wood from the two oaks was much harder to work with and bending it into an arc shape was never easy. However, when he got going, he knew that he could bend the branches further than the others could without fear of breaking. Since they had struggled in the open field, they were strong enough to bear the heaviest loads.
Since his bow had more flex when done, it meant he could strike at the hare at a further distance and wouldn’t startle as many as his friends would. Once he worked on his accuracy, which is a story for another day, it wasn’t uncommon for him to not only have the largest game but also the most hares caught during the hunts.
Out of struggle does strength grow.
Struggle, similarly, toughens the human spirit.
Most of us try to go through life following the path of the least resistance. We fail to recognize that this philosophy is what makes rivers crooked– and sometimes does the same for human beings. Without the strength of character that grows from struggle, we would be often tempted to flow through life with little purpose or plan.
Of the many clever devices that Nature provides us, I have observed that struggle is one of its cleverest. It’s a trait that we are always being compelled to expand, develop and progress. Success is impossible–unthinkable even– without it.
For many of us though, struggle is a terrible ordeal. However, for the few who are cultured in the workings of all good things and for those who possess a great attitude towards it, struggle is a glorious and magnificent experience.
We too can share in the glory of success often achieved only through struggle. Once we understand the broad purpose of life, we become reconciled to the circumstances that force us to struggle. As a result, we accept struggle for what it is — OPPORTUNITY.
I learnt the art of preserving through struggle from my grandfather and my father. It’s a trait that has allowed me to push on against insurmountable challenges, to trust that all will be well and that at the end the glory will be even greater and the rewards sweeter.
You too can learn it and benefit from it. By learning to embrace struggle, rather than trying to avoid it, you too, can use it to help you learn, grow and succeed.