I've been thinking a lot lately about resilience. Maybe it's because of the online course I recently took about the subject. Partly it's because Covid-19 has delivered a universe of stories about how, where, when and if we'll bounce back as a global community after the virus has had its way with us.
I was doing laundry in the garage last weekend while listening to American radio (NPR). The stories provide a soundtrack for domestic life. They inform and shape my understanding of current events and history. They're also a buffer against the drudgery of sorting sweaty shirts, trying to fold fitted sheets and emptying the umpteenth load of dishes from the dishwasher, which my teenagers should've done hours ago.
In the midst of cold, clutter and chores, I hear the voice of a man in Texas who lost his job, which led to his family's eviction. Daniel Garcia is sole provider for his family. His wife uses a wheelchair. He's a diabetic, a stroke survivor and has a criminal record, making it extra tough to find a job. Garcia had sold what he could to keep paying rent, including a lawnmower he bought to do yards, his son's PlayStation and two wedding rings. Garcia described how he, his wife and son lived in a moving truck for three nights before finding a motel to live in. He's working landscaping jobs for $10 an hour to keep a roof over their heads. He cried while telling the interviewer he felt he had failed his family.
This is where I lose it. Tears drop onto smelly socks. It's not just sadness I feel for Garcia; it's guilt about my own family's house. Not just having one, but fixing it up, too, while people worldwide are getting tossed from their homes. It's like choosing a kitchen tap, new benchtop and waste disposal while the Titanic sinks. Garcia said he hoped to make enough money to eventually rent an apartment for his family. "My belief is there's something always better and bigger at the end of the day. You know, God will turn around and bless us."
This is what resilience sounds like. Hope.
I feel helpless, like a krill in the ocean about to become a whale's next meal. What to do? Google. At least two people have started funding campaigns for Garcia and his family. One of them lives in my hometown, Spokane, Washington. Between them, these campaigns have raised about US$15,000 (NZ$22,600). Krill have joined forces to build a bridge between homelessness and being housed. This feels like community resilience. Hope. It's the equivalent of tossing a single starfish back to sea, but it's still progress for one family. And while I focus most of my meagre starfish efforts at helping people in the Bay, I believe giving is not a binary choice. It's not either 'a' or 'b.' Often, we can help 'a' and 'b.' Especially if we band together.
The word resilience has become so much a part of our vernacular, I fear its meaning is being diluted. We say we're resilient, believing there's a better day, month or year ahead. We label children resilient, assuming their physical and emotional scars will heal quickly and without lasting consequence because it makes grownups feel better. Yet we know childhood trauma often creates adults who struggle with mental and physical illness.
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I took the resiliency course when my nose resembled a running faucet and my elbow had become a festering corner for germs I was constantly coughing into it. Thank goodness everything was done via video call, and my sniffles abated by week two. A quiz revealed a personality profile high on rumination (not good) and control (also not good). I'm still mulling the rumination label as ruminators often do.
The course facilitator quoted author Mark Twain, who said: "I've lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened." Catastrophising has never helped me; the mind's disaster dress rehearsal only means I'd have to live the actual crisis twice if, in fact, the crisis materialised. Fortunately, rumination is a learned habit we can change.
The gist of the course was pay attention to this moment, because as the old wisdom goes, living in the past leads to depression; living in the future creates anxiety; but living in the present produces peace.
Humans are hard-wired to remember the negative. The angry email from your boss stays with you much longer than the compliment from your client. Remembering bad, scary things does nothing for resiliency, but apparently it helped our cave-dwelling ancestors avoid getting eaten by wild beasts.
At present, I'm considering comments people have written after donating to the Garcia family. They warm my heart. Messages include "No one should be evicted during a pandemic", "We need to help each other get through this" and "No one is ever alone". That last sentence, for me, epitomises how it's possible to keep getting up when life punches us in the face. We have each other - the daughter nestled nearby on the sofa; the friend who shares carpool duties; the colleague who helps re-write your report, even though it's not her job.
Sometimes, we renew our own strength in the span of a phone call, message or, because we are fortunate to not be physically distancing in New Zealand - through a hug. Those interactions sow seeds of resilience. Of hope.