This is a piece on resilience and perspective.
I had taken a pretty decent fall while climbing a boulder back in June 11, 2016*; and that fall resulted in two oral surgeries, 6 root canals, and two implants. I had lost two of my bottom teeth, along with some of the gum and bone that belonged to that area, and I had broken the surrounding teeth. It took almost two years before I had my implants complete.
I share this experience because it was a major experience, the suffering was obvious, and there was a lot of understandable sadness that accompanied it. If I were to “feel sorry for myself” once in a while, I was met with compassion and encouragement. That being said, the situation was so extreme for me that the only realistic option I had was to rise above and fight through the pain, the embarrassment, and the constant onslaught of medical bills and dental visits. Along with that, there was so much support and encouragement from friends and family, that I was constantly being uplifted when I would get down.
Over the course of my life, that injury was one the more intense experiences that I had to go through, because I was tested on so many levels: physically, mentally, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. That event had come six months after losing my dad to cancer, which was another intense experience; yet in that loss, I was again not alone. My entire family, dad’s co workers, friends, and anyone else who had shared life with my dad were coming together to support each other. When death comes, the ripple effect of someone’s life spreads wide, and you realize how many people are suffering from that loss; and again you will find that you are not alone.
What is interesting about the idea of resilience and perseverance, is that it looks different for each person. There will always be something worse happening to someone else out there that makes our big struggles seem minute, and though realizing this brings perspective, it does not remove the suffering. I did not need to look beyond the lives of our friends and family to realize that even though my pain and loss were real, there was plenty of hardship to go around. The line between perspective and grieving is a thin line, because we need both to process and work through the hardships that come our way.
So why do I share these stories? In major sufferings and struggles, we are joined and supported by those around us. There is an acceptance from others (and possibly even ourselves) that we may not bounce back right away. If we lose heart for a time, it is understandable; and we will be met with empathy and love from our friends and family. My dad will not die again, and I am not constantly falling from rocks and knocking my teeth out; so these are stand alone events that draw us into perseverance. Likewise, when these major events happen, our response is placed on a pedestal for all to see.
Showing resilience in the face of great adversity is of great value, yet I would like to look at the “practice” of resilience. How do we respond in the face of the daily inconveniences and struggles? When we do not get our way, or when our expectations are not met; do we respond with adaptability and a broad perspective, or do we respond with irritation and a narrow view? This is where the “practice” comes into play, and how we respond to the little things in life is where the character formation takes place.
1. Be thankful. I love the movie White Christmas. There is a scene where Bing Crosby sings the song “Count Your Blessings” to Betty Haynes because she can’t sleep. It is a simple song about maintaining perspective. The more we think about what we have to be grateful for, the more we realize all that we have to be grateful for. Likewise, starting our day with thankfulness allows us to view what comes our way through the lens of thankfulness.
2. Look for the good. Similar to being thankful, looking for the silver lining if you will, can mold how we respond to less than ideal situations. You’ve heard the phrase “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” right? In other words, we claim the good by turning obstacles into opportunities.
3. Consider others. Our greatest teachers on resilience are the lives around us. No matter what we are going through, we are not alone. Quite the contrary. When we suffer, we will find out that our situation is not unique. This happens because we share our own stories to connect ourselves to each other. When I lost my dad, sympathy came in the form of others sharing their stories of loss. When I lost my teeth, I began to hear countless stories of other people who had fake teeth, and most folks opened their mouth to show me their teeth. When I begin to feel stressed out with work, I find others who are stressed out at work. When I struggle as a parent, I am consoled by other struggling parents.
We are not alone.
If we can maintain a practice of thankfulness, positive thinking, and solidarity with others; we will find the path of resilience. If we want to stand strong when the storms come, we must get out and dance in the rain. There is strength inside each one of us, and if we seek it out, if we ask for it, then we will find it.
* If you would like to hear more about my fall and some of the enlightenment that came from it, please check out one of my earlier articles: Part 4: Broken smiles