Tag Archives: resilience

Resiliency

My Dad had two talks with me, the first was when I was about ten and the second was when I got my driver’s license.

The first talk coincided with my starting to venture beyond my immediate neighborhood, going to the library and the movies, which were both a half-mile from home. I always went to the movies with friends, but visiting the library was a solitary activity.

Library time was sacred, and I wanted the freedom to do what I wanted for as long as I wanted. The library had the same allure as church, drawing me into its silence, scents and rituals.

At the library, I could freely live out my love of reading, and I was even praised for it. The librarians engaged me in conversations about what I had just read, asking if I had liked the book, which was my favorite character and what was my favorite part of the story. They encouraged me by offering suggestions for what I might read next.

Their encouragement made me feel normal, as if escaping through books was what one did. They inspired me to read more and to expand my horizons. The library was the place where my imagination and curiosity were unfettered. Through books, I explored other countries, peoples and cultures.

I used to wish I could live at the library, surrounded by silence and books.

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My dad’s talk was about getting to and from the library.

My dad was a cop, and he believed that if his children were going to survive in the city, we had to figure things out on our own. He knew he and my mom would not be able to protect us once we left our neighborhood.

I had no curfew growing up and no defined boundaries; the whole city was mine to explore.

The advice my dad gave me was this: Always walk facing traffic—on the left side of the street—making it more difficult to be abducted. My dad explained that most children who were abducted were walking with traffic—on the right side of the street—so they did not see or hear someone approaching from behind. If I walked toward traffic, I would see who was approaching, and I would also make it more difficult for someone to snatch me because I was going in the opposite direction of cars.

Good advice.

The second talk, when I got my driver’s license, was this: While driving alone, especially at night, don’t stop if you see flashing lights approach from behind; it might not be a police car. Slow down, put on the blinker and drive to a public place (gas station, convenience store, etc.).

My dad knew what could happen to a woman alone in a car at night.

I’ve not had the flashing-lights experience, but I still follow my dad’s advice and walk facing traffic.

My dad would not have used these words, but his talks were building my resiliency toolkit, and I am grateful.  

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Birthdays in heaven

Jim and I used to celebrate our “feast days”—mine is July 22, the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, and his was July 25, the feast of St. James. During my morning prayer on each of those days recently, I recalled how we would mark these occasions—usually with a card and a small gift related to our patron saint.

Although Jim is no longer physically present, I still feel close to him, especially on days that were significant when he was alive.

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At lunch with friends the other day, one mentioned that her grandson’s birthday is coming up in a few weeks. This is will be the second birthday “since he is gone,” she said. The expression birthdays in heaven came to mind. Although her grandson is no longer physically present, his presence is still very strong, and she wants to mark his birthday.

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A few weeks ago, I facilitated a bereavement group at the cancer support center where I work. A dozen people talked about the pain of loss and the process of grief. They were strangers before coming to this group, and now they are connected by their shared experience of loss.

At the end of the meeting, the conversation took on a different tone as they planned their monthly Saturday dinner together.

Hope and resiliency were the words that came to mind as the air in the room became lighter. In the midst of deep sorrow, these twelve people were excited about their upcoming dinner.

Life is so often that kind of balancing act; sorrow and joy sitting side by side.

We hold all kinds of sorrows—because of death, dashed dreams, family members lost to addictions, betrayals, health issues and so on—and yet we also hold hope that things will get better.

And if we can hold onto that hope, things usually do get better.

We learn to carry our sorrow without letting it overwhelm us. We remember good times and discover deep gratitude for what had once been. We create a niche in our hearts where we store happy memories.

These experiences of loss change our lives and change us. They can increase our capacity for empathy and compassion, and they can teach us what really matters in life.

Moving through loss and grief can take a long time. People can get stuck in grief, fearing that to let go of sorrow would be a betrayal to those who have died or perhaps finding consolation in the identity of someone who is bereft.

That seems to be the exception, though; most people find a way to move through grief to a new normal—not the same as what once was, but good in a different way.

After their dinner, several members of the bereavement group reported that they had fun. One man brought each of them a loaf of bread from his daughter’s bakery. Small acts of generosity can lift spirits and awaken hope.

What can you do today that will generate hope?

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Fearless

My friend Ted was a very private person. He often confided in me, but always with the admonition not to tell anyone.

“Who would I tell?” was my usual retort, and he would recite a list of our friends.

“They wouldn’t care,” I would say, and he would mutter something under his breath. But he knew I was trustworthy, that I would not tell.

I am good at keeping secrets. My eight years of working for the FBI gave me lots of practice in keeping all kinds of secrets. Plus, if we had a family coat of arms, our motto would be Don’t tell. I came to the FBI as a fully-formed secret-keeper.

I was such an obvious secret-keeper that people sought me out to pour out their hidden lives.

True confessions was how I thought of those occasions when co-workers would reveal to me their deepest, darkest secrets. The stories usually began with “I have never told anyone this, but….”  I knew who was having affairs, who had had abortions and who had been abused as children. I knew of betrayals and dashed hopes. I knew the fears and anxieties traumatic life events could create. I listened and kept their confidences.

Somehow, I seemed to have the capacity to receive these sacred sharings. It felt like a God thing—and a mystery to me, the way people sought me out. People needed to talk, and I could listen. And after hearing someone’s confession, I released what I had heard, offering it as a prayer to God for healing.

These were one-sided conversations, though, because I kept my own secrets to myself.

Then, in my late twenties, I heard the slogan, You are only as sick as your secrets. If my secrets were the measure of my health, I was in deep trouble, because I kept lots of them. I knew government secrets from working at the FBI, other people’s secrets and my own.

When I heard that slogan, something shook loose inside me. I began to consider my secrets.

Mine were not so different from those others had confided in me. So, why was I holding onto them so tightly? What was I protecting? I looked for someone in whom I could confide and took baby steps in revealing my secrets. With each true confession, I felt lighter, freed from the burden of the secret.

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I came to understand that what happened in the past could not hurt me in the present, and I came to see myself as a survivor. Sharing helped me see my strengths and showed me how resilient I am.

Over the years, I have shared more and more of my past and now I am quite public.

If I had a family coat of arms, I would want my motto to be Nothing to prove, nothing to fear, nothing to hide. I want to be transparent and to accept myself as I truly am. I see that as the way to health and freedom.

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Is the parade passing by?

A friend recently invited me to her community theater’s production of Hello Dolly.

I tend to avoid musicals—too unrealistic for me. All that singing and dancing in the midst of poverty and despair is not how I remember the poor people in the neighborhood where I grew up or in neighborhoods where I have lived since.

When I saw Les Miserables, I remember thinking that most of the people in the theater would probably be afraid to walk through my neighborhood, yet they seemed to enjoy watching this upbeat depiction of oppression and wretchedness.

I worry that portraying poverty and human misery so light-heartedly can assuage the guilt of those who have the power to make societal changes. (Look how happy those poor people are; singing and dancing their way through despair—why change anything?)

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But, to support my friend, I decided to move against my resistance and go see Hello Dolly.

This particular community theater is no-cut, so the cast was large and included people of all ages.

I quickly got caught up in the music, costumes and pageantry of the play. It was all quite cheerful, and I found myself smiling as I searched the faces of the cast for my friend.

At some point, though, I realized the story was about Dolly’s desire to move past grieving her husband’s death.

In one scene, Dolly says to her deceased husband, Let me go. It’s been long enough.

I, too, have sometimes felt chained to my past and have pleaded to be let go. I want to be set free and move ahead, but sometimes the link to the past is so strong that it seems inescapable.

And, it isn’t always a relationship that holds me back. Sometimes (and perhaps more often) it is an unhealthy or unrealistic belief about myself—my own lack of confidence—that can keep me trapped.God-vulnerability-faith

When Dolly sang, I’ve decided to join the human race again before the parade passes by, I could feel the tears well up in my eyes.

Then Dolly admitted that no one else’s life is mixed up with mine, and I felt found out and exposed.

Through this upbeat, light-hearted musical, this play was speaking deep truths to my soul and inviting me to examine the current state of my life and just how free I am.

Am I open to mixing up my life with others? Or am I keeping to myself?

Am I participating in the human race? Or am I sitting on the sidelines?

Is the parade passing me by?

Grief can take on a life of its own, and great loss can make it difficult to re-enter life fully. But, I know it is possible, and Hello Dolly invited me to let go and live more fully.

Perhaps Les Miserables and other musicals portraying oppression and poverty work the same way on those who have the capacity to effect social change, exposing vulnerabilities and offering insight for transformation. Maybe I judged too harshly.

 

 

 

 

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Moving on

Celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a regular part of my spiritual life. Reviewing my thoughts, words and actions, looking at where I need to make changes and admitting my shortcomings to another human being helps me live more intentionally.

One transgression I don’t ever remember confessing is envy—because I tend to be quite content with my life.

Recently, though, I heard myself saying words I regretted the moment they out of my mouth. I knew I needed to apologize, but before I did, I wanted to understand what had prompted this comment.

I prayed for insight.

Pondering the situation, I realized I envied the woman I had spoken to; I was envious of a part of her life that reminded me of what I used to have but have lost.

Five years ago, I moved “home” after having lived away for almost forty years. That move changed my proximity to some friends and the things we used to do together. I hadn’t realized how much I missed that part of my old life until I heard this woman talking about a trip she had recently taken with her friends.

I was happy for her and the fun she had, but a week later—and not even thinking or talking about her trip—I said something totally irrelevant and rude. I was speaking out of the past, a past I have lost and apparently still mourn.vulnerability-grief-hopeUnderstanding doesn’t change or fix what is wrong, but it helps me to apologize sincerely and to figure out what adjustments I need to make to act differently in the future.

In this situation, my words led me to reflect on developing more friends in my new home—or perhaps initiating more with my family and the friends I do have.

When I moved home, I decided that I would not expect people to accommodate me—to make space for me in their lives—because I did not want to have unrealistic expectations. I knew that their lives had gone on without me while I chose to live away.

Developing realistic expectations can be tricky because expectations that are too high can lead to disappointment and expectations that are too low can lead to—well, I think in this situation, loneliness.

I realized that a fear of disappointment or rejection led me to develop extremely low expectations.

As I look back on the five years since my move, I can see that some of my attempts at initiating have been rejected and I have been disappointed on occasion. But more often, family and friends have embraced me and responded positively to my suggested activities.

Building a new life has been a challenge, and even though I am deeply grateful to be living near my family, my rude comment tells me that I still have a ways to go before I am totally content with my new life. Admitting that is the first step toward changing it. Letting go of what was also helps.vulnerability-grief-hope