This old woman is way tougher than I am

(This post is continued from Surfing Misadventures).

"When it rains, it pours," Greg groggily grunts through the fog of his head cold.

Thank goodness we have a cell phone. And friends. And a house to go to. Oh, and we know a great mechanic too.

We call our friends, and our mechanic, and in less than 20 minutes they've come to our rescue.

Diego, the mechanic, gets to work on the truck, and making the appropriate phone calls. Greg, our friend (yes, same name…), helps load our sleeping kids up in his van, and drives us home, minus daddy, who, despite is sickness-induced-stupor, stays with Diego and the truck.

At home, I put the kids to bed, then get online to do a bit of work while I wait for my husband. What I discover is that my website has been hacked, and is spreading viruses to my readers. Oh boy, just what I wanted to deal with. I don't even know the first place to start to handle something like this.

(Current update: this problem has been fixed. Don't worry, no more viruses.)

I take my website offline, and spend the remaining hours while I wait doing some research about what to do.

Meanwhile, back on the mountainside, Greg is passed out in the backseat of our truck, while Diego, our amazing mechanic handles everything.

He calls his friend to ask a nearby store owner to open up his shop so he can buy some transmission fluid. Then his friend drives it up to them on the mountain. Diego gets the fluid into the truck, then drives the truck (with Greg asleep in the back seat), down the windy mountain road to his mechanic shop, which is next door to where our friends live (the same one's that drove me home in their van).

(Over the next couple of days he runs tests on our truck to find a transmission fluid leak - since we were out of fluid - but can't find anything. He fills it up with fluid, and sends it back to us. What did he charge for this late-night mechanic call and subsequent work? After it was all said and done, only Q200  - about US $27. Amazing.)

By 11:30 p.m. Greg (our friend) has dropped off my partially conscious husband, Greg, and he falls into bed.

In the morning, we sleep in.

But as soon as I'm conscious, I ignore our usually morning routine, and set to work on resolving my website hack.

I should have known that I wasn't in a good frame of mind to work on a problem that was totally foreign to me.

I had allowed annoyance to get to me, regarding the unexpected broken surf board, and then the (once again) malfunctioning truck, which left us stranded on a Guatemalan mountain top in the dark.

I'd gone to bed late (much later than our usual 'bed time'), slept in (missing my morning routine), and now I was neglecting my kids and the duties of the day, placing all of my foggy attention on solving this one problem...right now!

As the day progressed, I become more and more frustrated, and more and more upset. Nothing seemed to work the way I needed it to, and in fact, more problems were being created.

I inadvertently locked myself out of my Paypal account. I got in a 'live chat' argument with my new hosting company. I kept getting upset with the kids for interrupting me.

By mid day I was a mess. I had begun doing what Wayne Dyer likes to call, 'acting crazy.'

Greg took the kids grocery shopping at the market, and I tried to figure out what was wrong with me.

Why am I having such a difficult time? Why is this a challenge for me? Haven't I learned enough through experience about handling difficulties effectively? Why am I making a 'mountain out of a mole hill'? Aren't these really just minor inconveniences?

Aren't I stronger than this? Aren't I more capable of handling the task with a clear head? Haven't I become more than the person I was acting like right now?

Managing to 'gain perspective' (as my husband likes to call it), I am finally able to successfully do what I need to do, respond appropriately to my kids and restore some peace to myself, and the day.

But throughout the coming week, I continue to mull over in my mind why life gets hard.

While pondering, I visited this woman to watch her make tamales.

She works hard for three days every week to make them, resulting in a profit of less than Q500 (US$67) per week.

Yes, I recognize the obvious facts of life just being hard, and obstacles getting in your path. So, we could say, "That's why life is hard, because it throws you a curve ball." You're cruising along comfortably, and all the sudden - BAM - there's an obstacle.

But what is a major life-altering challenge to one person, can be just a small stagger to someone else - a little trip along the path. What is an impossible feat to someone might be part of the daily routine to another.

(This is the difference between my husband and I. Problems are bigger to me than to him. He'll often comment, after reading my blog, "You really wrote about that? It was like a hiccup, no big deal. I hardly even remembered it.")

The difference is not in the obstacle itself, but in the capability of the person facing it.

Don't get me wrong, some challenges are extremely grueling - losing someone you love, either through death or divorce; being a single parent; facing severe financial hardship, etc.

But take the same challenge, and it could be handled differently by a hundred different people. To some, it might be devastating, and to others it's nothing more than a part of a days work.

We look at our neighbors and friends here in Guatemala, and the local indigenous people who live up in the mountains. On the whole, these people are tough.

Women hike the vertical hillsides with a baby strapped to their back and a load of groceries balanced on their head. Men and women work from sun up to sundown, and carry loads of leña or onions on their back, supported by a strap that runs across their forehead.

Every day we see evidence of the toughness of the people. They don't complain that they're too tired, or it's too cold, or that it's too hard. They do what needs to be done, because if they don't, then they don't eat: basically it comes down to that, be wimpy, and you won't eat.

Contrast this to the cushy life that I had while I lived in the States. In my temperature controlled model home, I was rarely too hot or too cold, and if I was, I just adjusted the thermostat. When it rained, I stayed dry. When it snowed, I stayed warm.

If I needed food, I didn't walk to a market with a baby on my back and my kids in tow (and around town for other shopping), then carry groceries home on my head through noisy, pot-holed, narrow streets, or up steep trails.

Instead I drove to a Super Walmart - one stop shopping - pushed a shopping cart around a temperature controlled building, gathered everything I needed, and easily rolled it all out to my car.

From there I would drive home along smooth, wide roads, pull into my driveway, and then have to face the 'difficult' task of lugging it all into my house - oh, so hard.

If these women don't feel like cooking (from scratch, over a fire), well then I guess the family will go hungry. Me? I would pop a frozen dinner in the oven.

Too tired to clean up? By morning the house will be swarming with ants and other insects. Me? I'll just do it another day, I wouldn't want to strain myself.

These people are faced with daily physical challenges that make them tough, emotionally and mentally as well. You won't find them blubbering over 'having a hard day'. That's life: every day is hard.

Hauling onions off the mountain

But for me, it wasn't uncommon to be regularly complaining - it's too hot outside, it's too cold, it's too wet, too dry; it's too hard to do this, too hard to do that; why does this have to happen?

And I wasn't required to do half of the physically demanding tasks that these people do everyday. I still wimp out when I have to carry 18 month old Atlas (who does weigh a lot, by the way). I pass him off to daddy instead (which the Guatemalan women can't understand).

I also was 'emotionally unstable', meaning that it didn't take much for me to resort to tears. Oh, my frozen dinner burned, and we have to eat PB&J for dinner. Why is life so hard?

Growing up in a country where every thing is so comfortable, and easy and convenient, it's no wonder that I'm 'soft', and that minor challenges suddenly become major. The lack of physical effort and strain resulted in mental, emotional -as well as physical- weakness.

This is why my husband handles obstacles better than I. He had a challenging childhood. He's faced personal difficulty. He's gone hungry and homeless. He's been lonely. He had to work hard.

He also continues to push himself, every day - physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. He doesn't take the easy road. As a result, he's more capable of addressing difficulty with the right frame of mind.

Here's the truth that I'm trying to illustrate. Think of the old adage:

Life is easy when you're tough on yourself.

Yes, life throws us curve balls, and sends all sorts of opposition our way. Along our journey, there's bumps and pot-holes and sometimes wash outs, or maybe the road will be missing completely. That's life.

Who knows why Guatemalans have to haul firewood to cook their meals, or why some people lose their spouse, or others lose their income.

Our job isn't to ask why but how. How can we learn to effectively handle the hurdles when they come.

How can I deal with website hacks without 'going crazy'? How can I handle my children's squabbles without an overwhelming desire to scream?

Here's the 'secret'.

As we become 'bigger' people, we'll soon find that our problems shrink. Not that the nature of the obstacle itself has changed, but that our ability to handle it has increased.

We'll never avoid problems in life. We'll never have completely 'smooth sailing'. And some storms might be more severe than others. But we will make our lives easier, and the nuisances and the devastation more manageable, if we learn the skill of outgrowing our problems.

One more thought about hindrances along the road of life:

In my experience, challenges aren't a 'sign' that we're on the wrong path, or doing the wrong thing, or headed in the wrong direction. In fact, they're just the opposite. They're a sign that you are on the right path - headed in the right direction.

The challenges we encounter are a test. Will you be committed enough to achieving your goal to push through them? Or will you give up, and take them as a 'sign' you shouldn't go on?

If you do push past, you'll discover that the grit and toughness you've developed as a result, are the very characteristics you need to achieve what you set out to achieve.

It's the obstacles that make you into the person you need to be to attain great things.

Besides, obstacles are just a part of life. Has your furnace ever busted? Did your water heater go out? Did your house flood? Did your car break down?

Did you take this as a sign that you should 'stop living'? Did you consider 'giving up'?

Oh, why did this happen? Maybe we're just not supposed to live.

So when we begin to pursue something new, follow a passion or chase a dream, don't take every barrier as a sign that you're headed down the wrong road. What you're experiencing is normal.

I may never be as physically tough as the Guatemalans, or as mentally or emotionally resilient as my husband.

But I can become tougher than my former self. I can become a bigger person than I was last year, or even last week. In the end, that's all that really matters.



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26 Responses

  1. MaryAnn

    Life is full of trials and we all have a meltdown once in awhile. I have come to terms with the fact that “older” isn’t always wiser. You have to give yourself permission to go “crazy” once in awhile.

    • Rachel

      The less crazy I can be the better, I say 😉 I think that comes from focusing on what is in our power to do.

  2. Nate

    It’s funny that we can see these things comming in our own lives. A week or so ago you mentioned how life was too calm it was scary.
    We look forward to reading your new posts! Keep em comming!

  3. kevin boyette

    Thank you Rachel….your openness to see things from this perspective solidifies your progress to being the best Rachel you can be…I aspire to do the same.
    I will be crossing to Baja…wish you guys wheren’t so far ahead..would love to meet you all


    • Rachel

      Thanks Kevin!

      We’d love to meet up as well, will you be traveling this far south? The longer we’re out, the slower our journey is progressing. 🙂 We may be here for awhile.

  4. Michael

    There’s less frustration and mental angst doing physical work. The brain thinks and sorts very efficiently and ‘creatively’ when the body moves. It’s why Steve Jobs always took long walks when he strategized and discussed business with his partners. Also because physical work creates endorphins it actually creates a feeling of euphoria and makes us healthier and stronger.

    The mental work required for the modern tasks you undertake dealing with computers, electronics and mechanical machines delivers none of that. So I don’t buy the point you make. I hear it all the time listening to sports analogies of success in the office.

    It’s BS.

    I’m glad I’m focused on fine arts painting outdoors less than using the computers like I used to. I still use both but I’m a lot happier using my whole body than just tapping away with just my fingertips. It’s exactly the difference between being a free range animal versus a caged animal.

    I know your intentions are ‘Right On!’ But please be mindful not to self-talk yourself or BS your readers into the still very poorly defined subtleties of being a caged animal.

    • Rachel

      Hmmm…I’m not quite sure what you’re referring to. Was I trying to talk people into being ‘caged’ animals? You’ve lost me.

  5. Michael

    Not at all! But it seem this whole mental toughness thing can be used for such by people who don’t get what you’re doing.

    • Rachel

      Still not sure I get it. I agree with the benefits of physical activity. It is very much needed, especially in this ‘cubicle’ age. It’s why people are soft – they’re not physical enough.

      If it sounded like I was trying to say the opposite of that, then my writing needs improvement 🙂

  6. Michael

    Maybe I didn’t read carefully too. So how about you just delete this thread and hit the beach. : )

  7. Lisa

    Rachel – this hits home for me! I think I’ve learned in my life to “suffer” with the slightest discomfort. While my husband is amazingly resilient. Travel definitely makes me grow in that area. Speaking of the amazing things people do… when we were getting off a cargo boat in the Amazon, I was lamenting the slow pace of the crowd of people trying to disembark, and the weight of my pack. Then I looked ahead of me and saw a man (not much bigger than me) carrying a MOTORCYCLE upright on one shoulder! It was a full size motorcycle. The crowd actually parted to make way for him to move through. It was amazing.

    • Rachel

      That’s an incredible story. ‘They’ accomplish pretty incredible feats, that truly make me look like a wimp!

  8. Sue

    Another great article…I LOVE your writings – it all makes sense! My mother (nearly 87 yrs) has always been amazingly resilient – and she has had a tough life ! But in between the tough times she travelled through Europe (with my dad) on an old motorbike, slept under the stars, in haystacks, under Gypsy caravans etc. AND this was all in the early 1950’s – her positive nature and genuine love of people is something we all love & admire! I am very thankful to have been blessed with a beautiful mother (/& best friend)… thanks again for sharing your writings with us all!

  9. Travis

    I am one of Chrysler best educated mechanics I lived on a ranch as a child where I learned hard work and how to make it Orkney with what I had. Would this be a good country for me to move to and work my way up and get a chance to LEARN a new way of life?

    • Rachel

      That is wonderful. Guatemala is a wonderful country and may be a great place for you, depending on what you’re after.

  10. Carol K8z

    Good to remind yourself of past epiphanies! Love you darling! Husbands can never understand how much more vulnerable we can feel when we are pregnant. You are not just concerned for yourself, but for your baby as well. Glad you are grounded and moving forward with faith!


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