The Meaning of Resilience – Shepherd Express

Posted: October 19, 2020 at 3:57 am

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Given the pandemic, we hear a lot about resilience, the capacity to flex ones attitude and behavior to effectively address adversity. And we should. Resilient types fare better than their mentally rigid counterparts who lack this bounce-back capacity. Fine, but what is resilience?

One of my wilderness experiences provides an illustration rather than a conceptual explanation. A few years ago, my backcountry buddy and I were slogging up a steep, rocky trail near Mount Rainier on our way to a white-knuckle traverse of an icy escarpment. Early on, our path intersected a nature trail popular with tourists who wanted a taste of the wilderness without the full monty. Nearing the trail junction, we glimpsed two figures coming our way, albeit haltingly.

We soon realized one of the approaching hikers was a petite, frail-looking woman who appeared quite disabled. Her left hand was contorted and useless, while in her right she gingerly held a hiking pole. With great effort, she half-dragged one of her legs. The man accompanying her walked behind, allowing her to set the pace, while we stepped aside to let them pass.

Good to see you out here, I said when her eyes met mine.

Her face bore the asymmetrical appearance found among some stroke victims, making it difficult for her to smile when I greeted her, but smile she did. Not just at me, I suspect, but also at the glorious vistas in our midst, and, perhaps, also at her own mettle in making this trek to see them firsthand instead of through a car window or on a screen. Its good to be here, she replied, beaming. Very good.

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She must want it bad, my companion observed as the pair carried on at their painstakingly slow pace. Resilient people do. They are energized by a sense of purpose, whatever that may be for them. It gives them hope, courage and grit.

An hour later, as my friend and I struggled with a much tougher trail and our own fears of a steep drop-off one misstep away, an image of this woman emerged in my minds eye. Her example gave me a shot of needed moxie and the resolve to press on. As former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, told us, You must do the thing you think you cannot do. And whether one is pushing against physical limitations or psychological ones, resilience provides that can-do mindset.

Due to the pandemic, challenges requiring this kind of mettle abound. And while they sometimes call for physical perseverance, successfully meeting them always requires a resilient mental attitude, the kind we saw on that disabled womans face and in her eyes. Such people dont capture many headlines. They arent firefighters rushing into burning buildings or self-sacrificing healthcare providers toiling in packed ICUs. Rather, they are otherwise ordinary folks who summon sufficient resolve to be heroes in their own right. And this is one of those times in our history when heroism is all around us.

Many lives are visited by personal tragedy, and no small number are destroyed by it. The surges in emotional distress, substance abuse, domestic violence and suicidality brought on by the COVID plague are proof of that. And while some claim life never gives us more than we can handle, glib platitudes dont cut it when misfortune arrives. And, this year, it has arrived in force.

Like many of us rocked back on our heels by the pandemic, its likely that, at some point, that woman on the trail felt shed been handed more than she could bear. That she proved greater than the burden placed at her doorstep by fate is a credit to her character and resilience, and an inspiration for all. This woman did more than overcome a raw deal. She also demonstrated that the human spirit can rise above the impersonal forces that sometimes conspire to defeat it.

To her and others like her ... thank you. By example, you reassure us that, somehow, we will persevere.

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To read more Out of My Mind columns by Philip Chard, click here.

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The Meaning of Resilience - Shepherd Express

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October 19th, 2020 at 3:57 am

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