I Don't Like Losing

I was at a women's luncheon on Thursday. The key note was a great speaker, a prominent Edmontonian. I left shrugging my shoulders. She's very much a "If you believe it, you can do it" kind of lady. She has, through her own drive and determination, taken a single hair salon in a very tiny town to a multi-million dollar chain in two provinces. She's worked hard, and she truly has made it happen, largely through her sheer force of will. She has made herself a success, and she deserves credit.

Last year, a friend asked me what the hardest part of infertility was. And I thought for a second and said: "I don't like losing." I don't often lose. I'm reasonably smart, I'm driven, used to success. I have a good job, a nice-ish house and a fantastic husband. I make good money, I'm articulate. But, there is nothing in the world I can do to make God give me a baby. There is nothing I can do to make sure my baby lives. Nothing I can do to reduce my chances of pre-eclampsia. I can't control life. I can't make anything truly important happen. I lose, because I can't win the fight by my sheer force of will.

Infertility taught me another of life's lessons: the biggest things in life, the best things in life; you can't make them happen. You can set the stage, you can pray, you can be open to things, but you can't make marriage, birth, love, conception, joy happen in your life. Humans are simply not that powerful. We control very little of our destiny. I wonder if we should keep teaching drive and determination and sheer force of will as good character traits, if we should keep prizing them so, given how very little we really can make happen, and how unimportant what we can make happen really is.

I look at people like the speaker, those who still believe in their own power to achieve big things, and I cock my head to the side and wonder "So, what will you do when you can't make something happen? When you discover that the sheer force of will that made you a millionaire, it can't keep the seasons from changing, it can't thwart tragedy, it can't add a single second to the life of a loved one? What will happen to you when you discover that the principals of grit and determination and hard work don't work?"

It was not sheer force of will that got me through the days after Gabriel's death. It was not drive or determination or grit that made me get out of bed, talk to people, plan a funeral, cook meals, pick up the pieces of my life. Sheer force of will fled, drive and determination meant nothing. Drive and determination for what? Another empty day without Gabriel, full only of longing and pain and sorrow?

I used to snowshoe. My final race was 40km, (25 miles), and the very end of it was a series of brutally steep hills. There are two ways to run up a hill. There is the sheer force of will method: Saying: "I will overcome, steamroll, kick and shove and use elbows in the corners. I will focus on the top of the hill, and I will get myself there."

The other method is far less glamorous, attracts less attention. You get up the hill by putting one foot in front of the other. You let everyone go past you if need be, you just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You don't focus on the top of the hill, you focus on the next step, and the next after that. This method, this is called endurance, patience.

You get up the hill either way. You get up more hills, using the second way.

You see, my drive and determination, they burn out. I get distracted, I decide if I can't win the race on my terms, I'll go play somewhere else. I get to the top of the hill, and I realize that life is just a succession of hills, and there is another, steeper one, for tomorrow. And I've already spent all my energy on the first hill. And if, perchance, I lose the race, it is a great crises of self.

Endurance is boring and mindless and repetitive. I suppose that's why we should call it another name, a name that is more indicative of what it really is. A name that speaks of patience and fortitude and stamina and hope.

Let's call it courage.