A time comes for all where darkness envelopes us and loneliness becomes our best friend. Though we all deal with adversity differently—some lash in and break themselves while some lash out and break others—at some point a crucible interrupts normal and forever changes our outlook. None among us can escape this most deviling pain; even those who seem like they have perfect lives could be waking up at this exact moment bathed in tears as they try to muster the will to endure another day. Smiles hiding sadness, drinks masking struggles, motivations to succeed at all cost; too many use external influences to deal and heal with internal traumas.
During my own time of bleakness, I read a verse once hoping to find a flicker of hope anywhere I could find it. I scanned a passage that noted hardship was a blessing. Upon reading the seeming contradiction, I wanted to curse God’s existence. Why must there be struggles at all? Why do good people go through so much injuries while those who commit injustice live in opulence? In this moment of crisis, I conflated my own pains with the suffering of the world and got enveloped in depression for it. Dealing with my tribulation was actually easy; my struggled was witnessing others who were broken.
The picture above of the Ethiopian child is one that has been seared in my mind ever since I saw the image a long time ago. I don’t know her story; maybe this child has escaped the clutches of poverty and is now a wealthy businesswoman, maybe she is a mother with multiple children and lives a life of abundance. But for me, that picture represents the hope and heartbreak that I have always felt for my native land Ethiopia. Perhaps it is easier to deal with the suffering of others than it is to try to fix self, or maybe this is how God made me and I should stop asking why I care so much about making a difference. It took being sideswiped by misfortune for me to finally stop asking questions and find my purpose in the midst of nothingness. Through this journey of discovery and the process of healing internally, I finally figured out why hardship is in fact a blessing.
What I realize after two years of walking in shadows is that struggles actually make us better. If we choose to be grateful during times of distress, eventually the same darkness that shroud us gives way to the brightest beam of enlightenment. I write this not as theory but as testimony. Nine months ago, I was in a place of utter bleakness and confusion. I was working as a cook at Harvest Farm in Wellington, Colorado where I was getting a $7.00 a week gratuity feeding 71 fellow broken people. Rest assure I don’t write this seeking pity; in hindsight I found more meaning and purpose making pittance than I ever did making six figures at Booz Allen Hamilton.
Though I’ve had my fair share of tears—hardships of being an immigrant, losing my father to cancer, and memories I’ve learned a long time ago to stow away like a Traveler’s luggage—I have nevertheless lived a life of relative privilege. In all honesty, things always came easy for me. I breezed through college and earned a masters degree almost as afterthought. Work was likewise a walk in the park as I used a mix of charm and precocity to climb the corporate ladder without so much as breaking a sweat. Yet the endless accomplishments and a sea of accolades were all meaningless—all felt empty internally and lacking of purpose.
My whole life I’ve wanted to stand up and be a voice for the voiceless. But too often, I let my ego and the desires of my flesh get in the way of my calling. Besides, injustice was just theory; as I would go protest some outrage or another during the weekend, that same night I would go to a lounge and party in ways befitting of rock stars. From chanting slogans to popping bottles, I was a SJW who used injustice as a hobby. Though I had smarts, I never had the wisdom needed to understand the potential that resided in me. Always seeking validation and chasing acceptance, I was too busy looking outward to understand my internal talent.
Then, all the sudden, whoosh! The floor cracked beneath me and I was flat on my back. From six figures I went to homeless as my shelter morphed from a luxury apartment to a pavement in Greenville, South Carolina. All the times I walked by homeless people on my way to the Department of Treasury wondering why the impoverished ask for change instead of working to change their predicament. Judging without understanding, dispensing verdicts with disconnected compassion, it took my dance with indigence for me to finally understand. Poverty is not a choice; when people slip into the abyss of homelessness and get lost into hopelessness, it takes an act of God to escape the clutch of penury.
Though homelessness is the extreme of duress, in lesser forms we all go through these billows. Sorrow is a companion that visits some infrequently and a spouse for others; nonetheless we all have our moments of ennui irrespective of our circumstances. When these moments come for us—especially that one moment of sorrow that rises above the rest—we are presented with a life defining dilemma. This is why I am writing this article today; I want to talk to you about this crucible and how our response to misfortune can determine if we will become victors or be victims.
Here is the wisdom that I learned through hardship. In life, we can revert to pain or we can invert the pain. What I mean is this; when we are visited by injustice and the mendacity of others or of our own doing hobbles us, a choice pixelates before us. We can either revert to pain and decide to pass on our hurts to others or we can invert the pain and decide to protect others from ever feeling the suffering we endured. Two people come to mind when it comes to these two polarities. Imagine Iyesus (Jesus) and Hitler; both endured hardship and faced tremendous suffering growing up and in their adult lives. Similar paths led to divergent decisions.
Iyesus was a refugee and was born into homelessness, he was a carpenter and walked among the broken. He saw suffering personally and chose to speak for those less fortunate instead of enriching himself. Hitler too had a horrendous childhood; abused by his mother and beaten by his father, a victim of chemical weapons and a starving artist, Hitler had grievances plenty for most of his life. Where Iyesus turned to charity, Hitler chose depravity. As Iysesus healed people through love, Hitler burned millions through hate. These two extremes of life decisions are what we are faced with when we too go through our moments of torment.
It took a bout of homelessness, a date with indigence and the cuddle of distress for me to finally understand the ways of this world. Wisdom is earned through woe and it is for this reason that Philippians said to count hardship as a blessing. We are at our greatest when we go through difficulties; a life of opulence seems ideal but our true mettle is only discovered after we go through the furnace and emerge on the other side of the fire refined by grace and gratefulness. For those who are reading this and are mired in hopelessness, take heart and be steadfast; the same darkness that keeps you shall be the light that frees you.
For others who strive to find meaning and want to fight for justice; march less and just be kind to those who are broken at your feet on the very pavements you walk on daily. It doesn’t take much to change the perspective and life of someone who is suffering in poverty—a few minutes of conversation is worth more than a few dollars given with indifference. The more we connect with the poor, the more we can change the world around us. Stop idolizing the rich and powerful and worshiping the famous; be kind to the least among you and be kind to yourself in the process and the world will change instantly before you.
As for me, the journey continues. I’ve learned a valuable lesson through this journey. First, give to self as you give to others; if I knew this a few years ago, I would have avoided the experiences of sleeping under a trailer truck to escape rain drops and dodged the dejection of being judged harshly by society. But then again, I am actually thankful that I went through these experiences, suffering humbled me and lessened my ego enough to know my limitations—the picture of the child above no longer haunts me. We each do our part to make incremental change, as we stand up for those who are broken, we must always be mindful to be thankful. Moreover, I have shed tribalism from my eyes, when I stand for justice I do so for Ethiopian children as well as children broken by poverty in America and throughout the world without regard to hue or ideology. I now understand that injustices are interconnected and our only hope is togetherness.
Above all, I now have enough wisdom to use my abilities to serve instead of accomplishing to cover up voids. Moreover, I have learned to stop letting the brokenness of this world break me. I do my part and leave to the lord the rest, through it all I will remain grateful. There are no accidents in life; all makes sense when we step back and observe from a distance. What seems meaningless has purpose; what seems hurtful eventually leads to edification. The world keeps telling us to find happiness only for that quest to lead us to lamentation. Instead of seeking happiness, let us find joys in being kind to one another and all else will make sense. #RevertOrInvert
None is greater than the other; we are all greater when we love and be kind to each other::
If you appreciate the message behind this write up and you too want to make a difference in this world not through grievance but through kindness, share this article on social media using #RevertOrInvert
Check out the Ghion Cast below where I discuss my process of discovery, this Ghion Cast was recorded while I was still at Harvest Farm, a place in Wellington that healed me and delivered my last name (Fikre means my love in Amharic)
This video is one that I made a few months before my journey of hardship and my experiences of losing everything started, sometimes we know of things before knowing things.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.