Category Archives: Resilience

Beyond Cozy

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Butterfly in Mount Ranier National Park, by Mark Smutny

I pulled a soft blanket over my shoulders, tucked my hands under the pillow and fell asleep.  Sometime in the night, I woke up with my right hand and arm numb and hurting like Hades.  Curling myself into a ball felt cozy at first but eventually cut enough circulation to my arm that my arm and hand “went to sleep.”  Note to self:  Don’t stay curled up so long you become numb.

It’s been about two years now, that I’ve lived a mostly secluded life because of health issues.  First in LA, where I was pinned inside because air pollution inflamed my lungs and put my life at risk.  then in Seattle, where it’s taken a year for my body to recover from the injury I did to it in LA with years of pollution.  My world shrank as I curled into a ball to survive.

Safe to say, I’m not the only one who finds it hard to exit the cocoon and come back to life after a time of solitude.  Folding in on ourselves is often an essential, life-saving strategy.  It conserves our energy, lets our mind and body heal from illness or grief.  It keeps us safe.

But staying like that for too long can cut us off, numb us, cause us to feel invisible and useless, and make it hard to re-engage.  Butterflies struggle to emerge from their cocoon.  My fingers tingle and ache as I wiggle them back to life.  We hesitate to reach out friends, search for a new job, adapt to new circumstances, resume hobbies we used to enjoy.

I slept through my hand and arm going numb until it became too much to bear.  I only acted when the pain awakened me.  Then I rotated my shoulder and dangled my arm.  Action, even minor, restored feeling and life.

We emerge slowly.  Testing.  Pushing through discomfort.  Pausing.  Starting again.

Feeling returns.  Life flows again in fits and starts.  Bit by bit, we wiggle our fingers, dry our wings, and begin to live again.

Kings, Pawns, Popes and Purpose

My reservoir of resilience ran dry this year.  It feels like the seams holding it together came apart and I have tried to re-stitch them.  Along the way, four threads of resilience, humility and hope have helped.

I found one thread in Vice President Joe Biden’s commencement address at Yale in May.  Biden described how election as one of the youngest ever to serve in the U.S. Senate fueled his “raw ambition” many years ago.  He was full of himself, he said, until six weeks after the election, when his wife and young daughter died in an auto accident and his two young sons clung to life.  He changed his focus and commuted four hours each day between home and Washington, D.C. so he could be with his sons every morning and evening. Biden said that being present with his sons and family suddenly meant more to him than all he had striven for.  He commuted for 36 years.  His priorities have remained the same ever since.  Ordinary relationships and people are more important than prestige, said Biden.

A second thread of resilience came from President Barack Obama’s eulogy for the Reverend Clementa C. Pickney, Pastor of the historic Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina.   State Senator Pickney and eight other African-Americans were massacred by a white racist in June at the end of an evening Bible study at the church.  Of Pickney, the President said,

 He embodied the idea that our Christian faith demands deeds and not just words, that the sweet hour of prayer actually lasts the whole week long, that to put our faith in action is . . . about our collective salvation, that to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and house the homeless is not just a call for isolated charity but the imperative of a just society. . . .What a good man. Sometimes I think that’s the best thing to hope for when you’re eulogized, after all the words and recitations and resumes are read, to just say somebody was a good man.  You don’t have to be of high distinction to be a good man.

A third thread came from former President Jimmy Carter as he spoke about his diagnosis of metastatic melanoma.  When asked by reporters of what he is most proud and whether he wishes he had done anything differently, Carter responded,

. . . When I was president, for which I’m very grateful—that was the high point of my life, politically speaking.  But The Carter Center. . . . deal[s] with individual people in the smallest and most obscure and suffering villages and that has been far more gratifying personally. Going into the villages, learning actual needs, then meeting those needs has been one of the best things that ever happened to me.

I wish I’d sent one more helicopter to get the hostages, and we would have rescued them, and I would have been re-elected. But that may have interfered with the foundation of The Carter Center.  And if I had to choose between four more years [as President] and The Carter Center, I think I would choose The Carter Center.

The most recent thread and impetus to write came from Pope Francis’ visit to the United States last week.  Francis, from Argentina, is a Jesuit, served churches in slums, and rode public buses to work each day even after he becoming a cardinal.  Unlike previous popes, he eats in the staff cafeteria with custodians and cooks, and refuses as many of the traditional vestiges of papal wealth and power possible.  Experienced U.S. reporters were tongue-tied at the Pope’s simplicity and integrity when he stepped into in a Fiat hatchback upon arriving in the U.S.

pope-francis-arrives-in-philadelphia-a4a7dbb440aac5beFrancis ate lunch with 300 homeless people in D.C. instead of with congressional leaders; and paused gave attention to special needs children and their parents.  He visited poor children and their teachers in East Harlem, and prisoners in a Pennsylvania state penitentiary, held their hands and looked in their eyes as they spoke together.  He helped lead a multi-faith prayer service with Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Hindus at Ground Zero in New York where, instead of Christian exceptionalism,  he advocated mutual respect for all religions.  The Pope’s model of humility and solidarity with the vulnerable was an antidote to the self-righteousness, bigotry, judgement, and grandiosity which usually comprise the so-called Christianity most Americans see publicly presented.

Each of these people gave me a thread of resilience, hope, and purpose.  For although in powerful positions, each showed what matters most is not who one is–one’s status, wealth, or abilities–but the character of how one lives and the integrity of the love one demonstrates. One does not have to be of high distinction to be a good person.  At the end of our life, what is most important is that it can be said of us, “This was a good person.”  That is a purpose worth getting up for.

 

An Impossible Dream Come True

For those of us who live in Pasadena, the Rose Bowl is more than just a stadium or a championship game of American football on New Years Day.  It’s also a park, picnic grounds, soccer fields, an aquatic center, a golf course, and a three-mile bike/walk/run lane that beckons us to get healthy and enjoy life.  I used to “walk the Rose Bowl” often, but haven’t in a long time.  For over ten years, I’ve dreamed of walking that three-mile loop again.  I finally did it!

To be honest, if I hadn’t been a bit crazy with stress that Saturday morning two weeks ago and not thinking quite straight, the dream would still be in the future.  But, hey, the world would be dreadfully boring without a little wild craziness in it.  Right?

The weather was too glorious waste on a treadmill and my usual hike along the Arroyo seemed boring.  I went in search of a new venue and the Rose Bowl called my name.  I promised myself I would limit my walk to 40 minutes, and quieted the inner voice tempting me to walk all three miles.

At the 20 minute mark when I should have turned back, I was on the west side of the stadium, with my car on the east.  I convinced myself that, since I had already walked this far, I should finish the loop.  How bad could it be?  Besides, if I retraced my steps, I’d have to walk in the sun instead of the shade that I knew was up ahead.  Surely shade would be easier to take than the sun, even if the distance was longer.  (I forgot I still had to walk uphill in the sun to reach the shade.)

My stress-addled, oxygen-impaired, and dream-crazed brain used the fuzziest thinking imaginable to justify my decision to keep going:  I usually walk 40 minutes at an average speed of 2.7 mph for a total of 1.8 miles, but will be able to complete an extra 1.2 miles in  just an extra 10 minutes while increasing my speed only slightly.  And . . . since 50 minutes is just a little longer than 40 minutes, I will be fine and not overly exhausted.  Really?  I plowed ahead.

A few minutes later, a fleeting moment of sanity weaseled into my brain and I phoned my husband for a ride back to my car.  He promised to pick me up as soon as possible, but was still in the mountains with our dogs.  He headed back to his truck right away to get me.

“Why sit and wait for him here?  Go a little farther, and a little farther,” screamed the voices of temptation and perseverance inside my head.  Hubby arrived as soon as he could–just after I finished walking two more miles and reached my car.

DisneyCheshireCat[1]The Cheshire Cat could not have worn a broader smile than I.  My 10-year dream came true. I punched my fist in the air and looked skyward, “I did it. I did it.  I did it.”

When I told a friend what I’d done, he suggested I work towards a 5K (3.1 miles) charity walk.  Great idea.  I have a new dream to strive for.   I started training for a 5K by walking two miles thee times per week. God willing and the crick don’t rise, I’ll keep going.  Cross your fingers.

Impossible dreams don’t always come true, but as Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother sing in one of my favorite songs, “Impossible things are happening every day.”

*Cheshire Cat from Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland”