In fiction, if it’s easy, it’s boring. Writers set their protagonist up in a difficult situation, and then make things worse. On purpose. Jim Wilson, writer, Flagler College professor and critique group leader extraordinaire, puts it this way,”you need to first drive your hero up a tree, and then throw rocks at him.” This process adds conflict, heightens dramatic tension, propels the plot and generally keeps the reader turning pages. After all, if boy meets girl and they fall in love with nary a challenge between first sight and happily ever after, that’s more like a greeting card than a story.
But we expect real life to be simpler, the path of true love (and everything else) smooth and unobstructed as a country lane minus the farm trucks. Messages touting our right to an easy life bombard us from every quarter. The media is rife with ads promising convenience and speed in everything from instant meals to instant credit. Colleges take pride in programs that provide two year degrees in ten months or less. Financial institutions brag about their ability to take you from penury to financial security, and all you have to do is, “stay on the path.” Even children’s sports have taken the risk out of competition. Everyone gets a trophy; no one loses. Of course, no one really wins either.
Such artificial lowering of expectations is a lie and severely limits our ability to deal with the fact that life is not easy. The power will go out, the car will break down, we will get lost, get caught short, get fired, get sick, all generally at the most inconvenient time possible. People we love die. The lie of the easy life prevents us from developing the internal muscle necessary to pick ourselves up when life inevitably knocks us down, and press on. We need that muscle if we are going to get through the tough stuff to the better parts. If we are to keep our hope and our joy, we must have the fortitude necessary to persevere.
The fact is, life will drive us up a tree and throw rocks at us sometimes. We are going to lose sometimes. The job that has to be done will be hard, sometimes. Occasionally, it’s going to be impossible. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the effort. As any protagonist worth her salt will tell you, we value what we have had to fight for far more than that which is simply handed to us. There is intrinsic value in the struggle to achieve and we would do well to keep that in mind the next time we are tempted to complain that the task before us is too hard.