"Severe suffering or privation."
"Conditions of life difficult to endure."
"Something hard to bear."
Religious leaders, prophets, monks, and the like historically sought out hardship. (Alas, not political leaders. It would be a good idea if that would start now, don't you think?) When we look back at historical figures (biblical and the like) who set out into the desert or wherever seeking hardship, it's difficult for us to understand why they didn't think their lives were already fraught with hardship.
They didn't have TV, dishwashers, remote controls, cars, electricity or even an indoor bathroom. We live such cushy lives today that finding out the microwave is broken when we can't afford a new one can feel like a hardship.
Of course, everything is relative, and we frame hardship based on our accustomed circumstances.
A woman married to a billionaire for 20 years sees hardship when she's awarded $10,000 a month in alimony. To her, that's suffering and privation, while to another woman living in a trailer in the woods scratching out a life with kids in tattered hand-me-downs, it would be a lottery windfall.
I've viewed hardship differently at different times in my life, based on experiences and changes in my style of living. I appreciate things I once took for granted because I've lived without them - and therein lies one of the key values in hardship. If we never live without something, it's not easy to properly appreciate it.
Hardship teaches gratitude and frugality. It gives wisdom and it teaches patience. It provides richness to life that no amount of money can duplicate. Without hardship, we have no idea of what we are capable. Hardship shows us who we are, down deep. It's an exercise in our response - do we cry, snap at everyone around us, give up or work harder?
Hardship comes in many forms, and the hardships that tag along with life in the country on a farm aren't the only valid hardships in the world by far; they are just a category of the form. Perhaps they are a special category in the sense that choosing this kind of life is akin to chasing after hardship rather than waiting for it to cross our path - for the love of the land, the commitment to simplicity, or a certain dementia.
Through hardships, I've learned the importance of friends and family, self-reliance, determination, willingness to learn lessons and openness to receiving them, and a sense of humor. I know that I'm not finished learning from hardship because when I couldn't start the generator on my own recently, I cried, I snapped at my daughter, I gave up, and then I worked harder. When I can eliminate all of those responses except the last one, I'll be finished.
And then I'm moving to a condo!
Writer Suzanne McMinn lives in Roane County, where she writes every day in her blog, Chickens in the Road, at www.chickensintheroad.com.