I woke up early on Saturday morning, threw my kayak on the car, paddle and lifejacket in the trunk – then hesitated.  Maybe I had too much to do… so many things ran through my mind that I started to unpack only to repack it again.  I decided that I would just shorten the kayak trip a little and be back in time to make myself feel responsible.   I just didn’t know how short the trip would be.

By the time I got to the beach, took the kayak off the car, lugged it the two hundred yards down to the low tide mark and walked back to get the lifejacket and paddle I realized it was an effort in futility – in my packing and unpacking, I had not reloaded the paddle.  I moped around for a few moments thinking about my misfortune of wasting an hour of my day, considered if I should just knock on a neighbor’s door and ask if they had a paddle that I could borrow since there were other kayaks on the beach … moped around some more – and eventually gave in and lugged the kayak back to the car.

Adaptability – it’s not easy at times is it?  Denis Waitley states that “adaptability is one of the top three qualities that are needed to succeed in the 21st century”.  In our fast paced and ever changing culture the ability to handle disappointment, adversity, or change is vital for success. Yet, even knowing this, when the need to adapt strikes it can be a challenge to adjust our attitudes and embrace the unexpected.

Everybody at some point is going to have adversity.  I think if we don’t learn from that, then it was just a penalty.  But if you use it, then it becomes tuition.

– Dr. Phil McGraw

In Stephen Covey’s book, Everyday Greatness, he shares a short story by Edward Zieglar called The Message of the Maples:

I know him to be a wise man, living in seclusion with his wife, but willing, he said, to receive me if I were ever in his part of New England.
I had heard him speak years before and recently had read several of his books.  Now I was seeking him out, because I had hopes his wisdom might relieve the gnawing melancholy that darkened my days.  Financial losses and an old disability had combined to take much of the savor from life.

On a clear, late-winter day, I found him on his farm near Corinth, Vermont, surrounded by fields and woodlands shrouded in snow.  After years of writing and lecturing and helping others, as a minister and “physician of the soul,” Edgar N. Jackson was now applying his own wisdom to himself.  He had been struck down by a severe stroke.  It left him paralyzed on his right side and unable to speak.

The early prognosis had been grave.  They had told Estelle, his wife of fifty-three years, that recovery of speech was unlikely.  Yet within a few weeks he had regained his ability to talk and he was determined to recover still more of his faculties.

He rose to greet me.  He was a distinguished-looking man of middle-height, moving slowly, aided by a cane, with an unmistakable sparkle in his gaze.  He led me into his study.  It was lined with books, new and old, all surrounding a desk on which sat a word processor and reams of papers and magazines.  He said he was glad to hear that his books had helped me.  They had, indeed, I said, but still, a series of setbacks have added up to more than I can handle.

“Let me show you something,” he offered, pointing through the window to a stand of bare sugar maples, stolidly facing the sharp winds that plucked at their barren branches and sent a dusting of yesterday’s snowfall shimmering downward.  A former owner had planted the maples around the perimeter of a three-acre parcel.

We walked out a side door and moved slowly on the crunching snow to the pasture.  It was a rocky expanse rife with grass and wild flowers in summer, but now brown and wizened by frost-kill.  Strung between each large one, I noticed, were strands of old barbed wire.

“Sixty years ago the man who planted these trees used them to fence in this pasture, and saved a lot of work digging post holes.  It was a trauma for the young trees to have barbed wire hammered into their tender bark.  Some fought it.  Others adapted.  So you can see here, the barbed wire has been accepted and incorporated into the life of this tree – but not of that one over there.”

He pointed to an old tree severely disfigured by the wire.  “Why did that tree injure itself by fighting against the barbed wire, while this one here became master of the wire instead of the victim?”

The nearby tree showed no marks at all.  Instead of the long, anguished scars, all that appeared was the wire entering one side and emerging on the other – almost as if it had been inserted by a drill bit.

“I’ve thought a lot about this grove of trees,” he said as we turned to go back to the house.  “What internal forces make it possible to overcome an injury like barbed wire, rather than allowing it to distort the rest of life?  How can one person transform grief, disappointment, adversity, or unexpected change into new growth instead of allowing it to become a paralyzing intrusion?”

Edgar could not explain what happened to the maples, he admitted. “But with people,” he continued, “things are much clearer.  We can use these unexpected changes as excuses to retreat.  Or we can accept the promises of resurrection and rebirth that is offered through adapting to the curveballs life throws our way.  You have your problems.  I have my own struggles.  I’ll work on mine,” he offered, “if you work on yours.”

Ann Landers shares, “In many instances we can’t control what happens to us, but we can control our reactions to what happens to us.  We can stay down for the count and be carried out of the ring, or we can pull ourselves back to our feet.”

While leaving a paddle at home and missing a kayak ride is certainly a small disappointment, any size frustration can be allowed to ruin a moment, a day, or a lifetime– as can the rewards of learning to adapt and make the most of any situation improve the quality of a lifetime.  After a few minutes of being frustrated I grabbed my camera and crossed the street for a walk along an area that I wouldn’t have taken the time to see only to experience a beautiful display of fall migrating birds on the mudflats of Biddeford Pool.  It’s not always easy for me to move on and make lemonade out of lemons but whenever I do it usually works out for the better.

Maybe the art of adapting was best summarized by Martha Washington,

I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.