Part of me is a prairie girl at heart, revealed by my affection for the “Little House on the Prairie” series, written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the subsequent TV show, as well as trips to places such as Walnut Grove, MN and De Smet, SD to experience their renditions of the time period. It’s easy to romanticize pioneer life, however, and forget how difficult those times actually were. People left behind relatives and friends indefinitely to pursue the unknown. There were serious threats of disease, starvation, and the harsh elements of nature as they made their way. And let us not forget the ugly underbelly of that time in history when Native Americans were displaced, killed by epidemics the settlers had introduced, murdered over conflicts, and made promises by the U.S. government that were never fulfilled.
Yet what I love about the charming stories told of the pioneer era, as shared in the books by Wilder, is the emphasis on the human spirit’s capacity for courage, resilience, and hope. At one point in the series, the Ingalls lose an entire crop — their livelihood — to an infestation of blackbirds. Pa tries to kill off the birds but there are too many. In stoic acceptance of such devastation Ma Ingalls responds, “There’s no great loss without some small gain,” and she makes a few of the fallen blackbirds for dinner. The choice to work with what was before her, to not miss the opportunity for a meal despite being completely devastated and worried about how they will survive going forward, is incredible. Over and over we see this family meet terrible adversity with stunning optimism, focusing on what they have rather than on what they don’t. It’s a principle that maintains some quality of life for them while managing the worst of times.
Our world’s current crisis calls to mind such stories of perseverance. I join with others seeking out the small gains amid tragic loss and terrible hardship sweeping the planet. There must be some bits of grace we can cling to as we wait out the storm of this pandemic. Perhaps it’s a slower paced lifestyle, more time with one’s family nucleus, a chance to take care of domestic duties that haven’t made the priority list in the normal hustle and bustle of over-scheduled lives. Perhaps it’s the push to increase technological skills for school, work, or visual connection with loved ones. Perhaps it’s taking up writing letters by hand again, getting more time to read books, or finally finding room for daily meditation. Perhaps it’s the better air quality as CO2 emissions drop, or less seismic noise on the planet so scientists can better monitor the earth’s crust. Perhaps it’s a chance for creativity to bubble up in all kinds of ways, and so forth...
“There’s no great loss without some small gain” does not mean the great loss is justified by any upside. It simply means we are invited to focus on what is within our control with an attitude that helps soothe the suffering, if only just a smidge.
What small gains are you discovering during this challenging time?
May you be inspired!