By Kristin Carlson
Resilience has become one more
on-trend buzzword, like synergy
or empowerment. Popular media outlets
overflow with helpful, how-to tips.
How to foster more resilience
in our workplaces, homes and kids.
How to develop the three (or seven) habits
that will help you bounce back from life’s little hits.
Side bar: Teach your kids
to tough it out and suck it up.
Arm them to survive (or dare we say
thrive) in today’s fast-paced world.
We talk about resilience. A lot.
But what we teach is retribution,
resistance, and grit. Hit back
just a little harder than you were hit.
Show them (whoever they are)
What you’re made of. Get mad.
Get even, Get up one more time
than you get knocked down.
But my next-door neighbor is living proof
that even steel melts. Even the fiercest
will can be bent. Even an industrial-strength
rubber band will snap if stretched too far.
She was wearing a helmet when her bike flipped,
cracking open the fragile bone-shell of her skull.
Snapping out of it is not an option for her.
A freak accident has shaken her brain to its core.
Even the most positive-thinking cockeyed optimist
would never suggest that her injury was for the best.
She is not some kind of intricately veined kintsugi vase,
made more exquisite by having been shattered.
In truth, there are precious few punches
harder than the one she’s been thrown.
But she is made of sterner stuff
than sippy straws and hospital gowns.
Or maybe she is more flexible
and softer than both. All I know is:
every morning she gets up. Relearns
the alphabet, letter by patient letter.
She plants fall perennials, trusting in winter growth
underground. She listens to classical music,
exercises her limbs, wills her synapses to reconnect.
Her progress is slow, something she has never been.
I watch her through my kitchen window.
Just a yard away, she finds home in silence,
companionship in soil. Spring has come,
and she welcomes it with a sunhat and trowel.
Sure, most of us know how to handle
a little bad news, how to rebound
from the occasional blow to ego or career,
how to recover from the seasonal flu.
But what if the injury is permanent,
the illness terminal, or chronic?
How are we supposed to bounce back
from a world at war or a global pandemic?
My neighbor is making great strides,
which she calls baby steps.
Herculean is what she is.
Every day, she puts her feet on the floor,
deliberately inching toward more.
More mobility, more vocabulary,
more hope than yesterday,
or the day before.
We can talk over the fence now.
And when I show up shaking, seeking comfort
for the pipe that burst, the water than ruined
the paint, the cabinets, the walls on which they hung,
she offers her presence. Nothing more (or less).
She provides no exercise in perspective,
makes no suggestion that It’s only a house,
or It could have been worse.
This woman who has been dealt
a devastating hand, chooses not to play
the You think you’ve got problems card
(which she has rightfully earned).
Her calm settles my nerves.
Shh, she whispers. Moving beyond words,
she tells me, in no uncertain terms, that we
cannot, should not, ever, compare miseries.
Her resilience does not restore
Her resilience transforms
God knows, I’d rather buy the flashy media hype.
Hashtag: Just Do It. Never Give Up. Live Your Best Life.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
Right? Who doesn’t want to be invincible?
People are resilient, we tell ourselves,
and so is everything else that matters most:
our kids, our ecosystems, our planetary home.
But my neighbor sees beyond the Facebook posts.
There is no stress-test to gauge
the tensile strength of the human heart.
No surefire way to dodge
the catastrophic price of living on this earth.
Like Sisyphus, we push. Uphill.
No pain. No gain.
Try these tips to become
more resilient in just five days.
But resilience is not the same as persistence.
Resilience requires rest. A breath. A pause to reset.
Maybe, just maybe, for today, it is enough
to kneel in the dirt and plant spring bulbs.