“Remember two ‘A’s'”– “Be Adventuresome” and “Be Adaptable,”– those were the main points of the speaker’s address at my college graduation ceremony. Those two qualities give any story a universal appeal. If you don’t believe it, pick up any issue of the Readers Digest and browse through the titles. The main characters are adventurous, as in “courageous, spirited, resolute and enterprising.” They are adaptable, especially as in “versatile,” that is, in “able to go calmly to Plan B, C, D, or Z, when the doors are closed on Plan A.” They are people who don’t give up, in spite of the odds against them or the changes they have to make because of their circumstances.
Those qualities are what attracted me to Richard Halliburton’s adventure stories and Ernie Pyle’s columns when I was in high school. They are exemplified in one of my favorite Bible stories, the one about the four lepers who were sitting at the gate of the city during a time when Samaria was being besieged by the Syrian army. They said, “If we enter the city, the famine is in the city and we shall die there: and if we sit still here, we die also. Now let us fall unto the host of the Syrians: if they save us alive, we shall live; and if they kill us, we shall but die.” Taking advantage of that one small thread of hope led to circumstances that ended the siege that very day!
I’m really looking for another word. I thought of “resilience,” the ability to recover from or adjust easily to change or misfortune. But that’s not exactly it either. I’m thinking of the ability to make good use of the smallest, most unlikely resource you have available for what you want to do. Perhaps the word I am thinking of is “faith” but it is faith combined with whatever action you can initiate. It is moving a mountain by the tablespoonful if that is the only tool you have, at the same time you are praying for it to be moved.
One example that comes to mind is from a magazine short story I read a very long time ago. On the way to an interrogation session, a young man in solitary confinement found a small book in a plain wrapper. He stealthily carried it back to his cell and waited several days before unwrapping it, entertaining himself with imaginations of what kind of a book it could be and what he could do with it. Finally, he opened the package and discovered that it was an instruction book for the game of chess. At first he was disappointed, but then he thought of forming the chessmen with threads pulled from his blanket, tied in different assortments of knots. The story goes on to describe his later experiences as a chess champion, but what impressed me was his ability to do so much with so little.
Maybe my all time favorite is the real life story of Gladys Aylward, the Englishwoman whose experiences in China inspired a book entitled The Small Woman, a biography of her life written by Alan Burgess, and were the basis of the movie, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. Her adventures in China are amazing enough, but the part of the story that really inspires me is the way she got to China when seemingly all doors were closed. She had presented herself to the China Inland Mission as a candidate and studied there for three months. But she did very poorly on all her classroom tests and was disqualified.
She was still determined to go to China so she went to a travel agency where she learned that the least expensive ticket to China would be on a train across Siberia. She had only a few pennies to her name, but she went to work as a parlor maid, and each week she took her earnings to the travel agency to pay for her ticket. It took her several years to complete the payment for the cheapest and most unlikely and difficult way to get to China at that time. But she did it, and spent many years working in China in many “unlikely and difficult” circumstances.
Can you imagine reaching a goal by such tiny steps over such a long time? That is the kind of mind set I want to have when my days are difficult and the future uncertain. Remembering some examples of the power of an indomitable human spirit get me back up to try one more plan, or the same plan one more time.