There’s a saying we use around my house–always the hardest way. It started out as a complaint. Whenever Nic and I or the kids were going through something we felt should be straightforward–something as trivial as paying a bill or going shopping with the kids, or something bigger like dealing with illness in the family or surviving a car accident–some extra issue would always come up, some unforeseen level of difficulty that would make the seemingly uncomplicated thing a royal pain in the ass.

Whenever that thing would arise, Nic and I would look at each other and say, “Always the hardest way.” It was our way of commiserating the ongoing difficulty of just getting through one freakin’ day in life.

Lately, however, I’ve noticed something different is happening. We’ve just been living our lives as we do, going through our natural trials and tribulations, but things don’t seem so hard anymore. It made me wonder, has life somehow become easier?

Ha ha ha. No. Not at all. Not even close. Every day is a new face punch. We’re no different from every other person on the planet, dealing with their own problems and probably thinking always the hardest way whenever they are going through something tough.

So why do I feel so happy? Why has saying, “Always the hardest way,” to my wife become something that makes me smile instead of sigh and frown?

Being the introspective and philosophical nut that I am, I started pondering the question, started studying my reactions and my feelings, started questioning what I see in the world news and on Facebook and Twitter, what I hear around the office, what I read, what I watch, and what I glean from the radio or music.

What I discovered is that many of us wish the world was different. Many of us wish the political climate was different (or we wish others would stop wishing it was different). Many of us are expressing our opinions about how things should be one way or the other. We express outrage. We express pain and concern about trivial matters and big matters, personal matters and public matters. And while all of this is happening, many of us are pointing out the heroes we see in the midst of all the madness. We post things about people who have gone through–or are going through–something difficult and yet they seem to prevail. We hail these heroes and do our best to make sure their stories are known to as many people as we can reach. We shine a light on them and call them beacons of hope.

Why do we do this?

Because heroes inspire us. When certain people are faced with difficult times and they do what it takes to get to the other side of their obstacles, we feel encouraged, we feel hope. We love that when faced with choosing something cowardly or weak or wrong, heroes choose to be brave and strong. They choose to do what’s right, even if it costs them everything. We love them for that. We celebrate them and hope to learn from them.

But do we see that heroes couldn’t exist if bad situations didn’t arise? Do we understand that extreme difficulty is part of the evolutionary process? After all, how does a soldier, or a teenage girl, or a fireman, or a pop singer, or somebody’s mom become a hero in our eyes?

They go through some difficult shit, that’s how.

I’m not suggesting that the truly horrible things in life should exist simply so that people can be made into heroes. I’m simply suggesting that maybe our own lives can mirror those of the heroic lives we celebrate. I’m suggesting that the presence of difficulty in our own lives, just like the presence of difficulty in a hero’s life, can be considered a necessity. I’m suggesting that we can choose to look at difficulties as negatives or we can choose to look at them as an integral part of the equation that makes up our positives.

We often wish away hard times, we often want simple answers to difficult problems. But if we got our wishes, if we found simple answers, where would that leave us? I mean, really, if you got everything you wanted today, what would you do when you woke up tomorrow? It’s glorious to imagine an easy life, but even a week without a single difficulty, would it really be a great week? Would it really be a great month, year, or life to live without issues?

I think I answered this question within myself in the past several months and years. I’m happy despite that fact that life hasn’t gotten easier at all, and in fact more difficult in many ways, but it’s my attitude about what it means to go through difficulties that has changed. I got kicked around enough times to realize that always the hardest way is the only way, and if things weren’t extra hard all the time, I wouldn’t be capable of being happy. I’d just be standing still, wondering what to do with myself.

I certainly wouldn’t be anyone’s hero.

So I guess what I’ve got is this: Whomever you are, and whatever you’re going through, no matter how difficult or how heartbreaking, maybe you can take some solace in the notion that you’re becoming a hero. Get to the other side of that difficulty. Get through the pain and the misery. Get back to your positive, and then look around. You’re likely to find that someone loves you more because of what you’ve accomplished, even if that someone is the person in the mirror.

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