Adventures and Hardship

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.”
-G.K. Chesterton
I didn’t think much about this quote the first time I read it. I thought “well…yeah…I suppose that’s true” but I also rather thought the author was oversimplifying. There seems to be a real distinction between the inconvenient adventure of one’s tire busting on the road, and the more palatable adventure of setting out with a pack on your back to hike a beautiful mountain.
But Chesterton makes a further point in his essay on the importance of the family–for it is a decidedly unchosen adventure and often a very great inconvenience–which drives this point much further home.
“A man has control over many things in his life; he has control over enough things to be the hero of his novel. But if he had control over everything, there would be so much hero that there would be no novel. And the reason why the lives of the rich are at bottom so tame and uneventful is simply that they can choose the events. They are dull because they are omnipotent. They fail to feel adventures because they can make the adventures. The thing which keeps life romantic and full of fiery possibilities is the existence of these great plain limitations which force all of us to meet the things we do not like or do not expect.”
(emphasis added)
These quotes came to mind from a very mundane source. I am spending time with my family and have been traveling a lot lately with my 1 year old and my 24 week pregnant belly, always having to adjust to different environments and then back to home, then to the road, then to a boisterous, crowded house, then to an empty one again. It’s all good stuff, but daunting, because doing things under these circumstances–even the theoretically fun things–is often hard.
What is fun when you’re a singleton, or even married but without children, becomes challenging and even wearisome when you have other lives dependent upon you. It is as if once you were rich in time and freedom of movement and now you are poor in said things, but the poverty of circumstance forces resilience, creativity, and endurance. I learn that I can do what I did not think I could do. I learn that I can make good on inconvenience and discomfort. And THAT, believe it or not, is a real adventure. Not one you would seek, but one that is worth coming through.
The second circumstance that brought this idea to the fore was watching my dad work on some big projects. My dad has worked with his hands for most of his life. His first education was to be a mechanic, but he ended up doing construction for the majority of my childhood. When I was very little he worked two jobs–at a construction company following a 3 am paper route to supplement income (that’s something you have to do when you have six kids!). He is a creative problem-solver type.
So this week he had some new flooring to lay down, as well as a broken dishwasher and a failing oven to replace. While this is his field, there’s always some new aspect to each project. Certain things had to be done to wire/connect the stove for propane instead of gas, as well as doing a tip-preventer thing to keep the oven from being pulled over by a wayward child (say, an exploratory 1 year old…)
All that to say, I always get the impression that my dad views a new and complicated construction or installation project as an adventure, rather than a wearisome prospect. I don’t think he would put it that way, but he attacks it that way, circling the problem for possibilities, and getting right to it. And each time he overcomes the problem, it is a new tool in his belt (sometimes literally and figuratively).
My husband is this way too. He will start a project from scratch, knowing next to nothing about it, and he will work and study and research and figure it out.
Sometimes, on my better days, I can see this clearly and enjoy a daunting project or endeavor, rather than dread it (which is what I all too often do). Once, when my car’s starter went out, I simply refused (as the daughter of a mechanic) to take it to a repair shop. So I bought the part, went to the hobby shop on the Marine Corps base where I lived, and spent my lunch hour(s) fixing my starter with help from my dad and a youtube video. What was a frustrating inconvenience became an adventure, a skill-acquirer, and a point of pride for me.
In the context of fiction, the adventures are always obvious to us and we like to watch them unfold and envision ourselves in such situations. But were the stereotypical adventures of fantasy novels to present themselves to us in real life, they would be viewed as frustrations and inconveniences at the very least. Just think of how you feel when you are stuck in traffic–a very minor inconvenience, but one which often makes us grip our steering wheels and feel like shouting at random strangers. Just think how we feel when weather keeps us from doing an activity we had planned, or slows down progress on a project. Think of how we feel when we crave a certain food, but the takeout place is closed. Think of how we feel when our phone is on the fritz and we cant call people or access e-mail or navigation or whatever it is (I’m still relatively new to smartphones, and I don’t use more than few of the extra million and a half features available).
These are very minor things, and rarely do we take them as adventures (at least, I rarely do). Normally we just get aggravated and wonder why all these little motes of dust are getting in our eyes when we just wanted our day to go along without any interferences!
Interferences are the adventures, if we will rightly consider them. This is what I want to do in life. When things aren’t working out the way I want them to, I want to think of this–think of great characters in stories and great heroes in real life–and attack it like an adventure.

 

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