Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Football teams talk about building for success around their quarterback or perhaps their defensive line or linebackers. If you could build your life around 3 or 4 key character traits, which ones would you choose ? Many of us would probably start with integrity, the basis of our reputations.

Another character trait that would be among my cornerstones is perseverance. I think people who persevere are attractive and stories of perseverance are inspirational. Examples of those who persevere abound – war heroes battling against all odds (the men at Normandy and Iwo Jima), sports teams that refuse to quit (“Remember the Titans”), people unwavering in their focus to accomplish a mission (Hilary conquering Mt Everest), families fighting together against a loved one’s illness. Even more attractive than those who persevere are those who persevere with grace, with quiet dignity, yet steely in their determination.

Sometimes the most compelling stories of perseverance are those of ordinary people struggling with the challenges of life. And that brings us to adoption. Adoptive parents persevere – usually with grace, not always quiet, but certainly determined. In most cases, adoptive parents have endured the pokes, prods and other indignities associated with infertility treatments, more often than not resulting in a devastating monthly report card. These disappointments can be compounded by pregnancies that end in miscarriages. Few things crush the spirit more than a blank sonogram. Eventually adoptive couples move on – to Plan B. They (we, since I’m an adoptive father) look back with perfect hindsight and see Plan B as Plan A.

But to be clear, the adoption process is not a picnic while you’re going through it. Even if things go as smoothly as possible, it’s still a rollercoaster of emotions – a sense that things are out of your control because they are and an excruciating wait that seems to last forever. By the time a couple has become an adoptive parent, they have undoubtedly persevered. Perseverance is a bond we share. And in a strange, unforeseen way, we are doubly blessed – we build family and we build our character. Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us: “suffering produces endurance; endurance produces character; character produces hope; and hope does not disappoint us.”

My father was not one to give a lot of advice and he was not exactly a patron of the arts. He did, however, have one poem that he liked a lot and it’s filled with advice from a father to a son – Rudyard Kipling’s “If”. It’s about level-headedness, balance, quiet confidence, humility and perseverance.

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

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