Saturday, August 4, 2012


Last week, I talked to a guy we'll call, Justin. He told me about how last summer, he was in an incredible boating accident. He went over the front of the boat and his head was sliced open by the propellor. He remembers very little of the accident, but recalls an out-of-body experience where he saw "someone" in an accident being taken out of the water, strapped to a back board, and rushed to emergency surgery. He was in intensive care for his severe brain injuries, yet recovered by way of physical therapy, and returned to college in the fall. Later, the hospital mailed him his wet suit, sliced open by the boat's propellor, still bloody. He rinsed it off with a hose and moved on. He still wears it when he goes boating.

I asked Justin, what I assumed to be a no-brainer question: "Did going through this accident and recovery make you have a far greater appreciation for life itself?"

"I wish it affected me more," he replied honestly. "I wish I thought it about it every day and was eternally grateful, but I've just kinda moved on. I'm grateful to be alive, of course. But it's not like I think about all the time."

What makes Justin so resilient? How has he been able to recover and move on with so little emotion as he re-tells the story of the day he almost died?

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My dear Grandpa (who just passed away in May), outlived three wives. His first wife died of cancer. His second wife died in a car accident. His third wife also died of cancer. I wouldn't have blamed him for dying of a broken heart, but he didn't. His body just gave out, but his spirit never ceased. How did he have the strength to get up every morning? How did he remain such an optimistic, whole-hearted person until the day he breathed his last?

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My lovely friend, Kylie, just returned from a visit to Nepal. Alone. She didn't know anyone before she left. She took these amazingly vivid pictures of the children she met and the places she visited. She told me stories about her travels, her experiences, and how excited she is to go back. She will be moving there soon and staying for three years. Wow. How is she so brave? How does she adapt so well to completely foreign environments and still honestly enjoy herself?

*     *     *      *     *

I've never survived and recovered from a boat accident like Justin.
I've never had to endure the death of a spouse, or two, or three, like Grandpa.
I've never so gracefully adjusted to change like Kylie.

I've heard from people who have had abortions, who have been raped, who have been abused, and who have literally had to run for their lives. People who have lived through divorce, destitution, poverty, gang violence, cancer, and disease. I hear these stories and sit back in amazement because I wonder if I could handle half of what they've been through. It seems to me I've endured far less-traumatic events in my life and have had a much more difficult time recovering from them.

I wanted Justin to tell me that he had nightmares. That he spent months recovering. That he still fears being around boats. That the sight of that bloody wet suit sent him into a panic. That he's still figuring out how to move on. But he's not. He's fine.

He's just fine.

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On Monday, I asked my counselor (over the phone), if there is some sort of gene that makes certain people more resilient than others.

"Well, that's a nearly impossible question to answer, because it implies that we're all equally equipped creatures from birth. But we're not. We have different tendencies, different DNA, different cultural norms, different childhoods, different everything. There is not one right way to respond to adversity."

This is the point at which I disagreed adamantly, telling her that how I respond to everything is wrong, puny, incorrect, bad. That there is surely a more ideal way to respond to trauma than to cry or plead with God or remain paralyzed in the same fear.

And this is the point where (I'm sure) she rolled her eyes, took a deep breath, and said, "You don't want to believe me do you? You so badly want to know that you're okay, that you're acceptable, that you won't even allow me to tell you the truth about the human experience? That there isn't one right way. That maybe you're doing just fine. And you're experience doesn't need anyone's judgement."

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  1. (of a substance or object) Able to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching, or being compressed.
  2. (of a person or animal) Able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.

I think that many of us define words based on our own experience. For example, I define my own "resilience" compared to some incredibly tough people I know. But does that mean that I will, by default, always be a wimp? Does truth only depend on how it compares to the biggest, the best, and the brightest? No. 

Because to someone else, I am resilient. 
To someone else, am strong. 

I am, therefore I am.

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I know this girl. She's so great. She's kind and talented and good with people. She's human and she struggles, but she's also tough and she thrives. Sometimes she looks outside herself for validation that what she's doing is okay. But she knows she doesn't want to do this and she's working on it, but not berating herself until she's perfect. She has an emotional vocabulary that will knock your socks off. She's wise. She's good at expressing how she feels. She's good at reading others. Her life has had ups and downs like everyone else's. Some she surely looks back on with a twinge of regret. But at the end of the day, she knows that--big or small--those trials have made her who she is today.

She is resilient.


Caitlyn Brianne said...

Heather I love so much how you search, the honesty and openness you have, the love you give, the words you speak that encourage so many others. You are resilient, you are a fighter, a truth seeker, an inspiration to so many, thank you for being you!