In my book, The Eight Aspects of God, A Pathway to Bliss, I quote Paralympics athlete and bilateral amputee Aimee Mullins as saying, “Until we’re tested we don’t know what we’re made of.” With all the previews leading up to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia and watching the Seattle Seahawks (the underdog!) bring home the Lombardi Trophy by winning the Super Bowl this week I have been inspired by so many other athletes with the same level of spirit and resilience as Aimee. Take a look at Aimee’s TED Talk. Truly inspiring!
In her talk, Aimee said she hadn’t ever looked up the word “disabled” and was shocked when she did. Weak, lame, diseased, and unfit are a few words used to define disabled. But, these lame words don’t describe what I see in Aimee or any other disabled person I know. All the disabled skiers I’ve met and skied with over the years are far from disabled as defined in your typical dictionary. The same applies to the students in my adaptive yoga class. Like Aimee, these athletes and yogis are quite the opposite of weak or lame; they are strong, able—and resilient.
I thought I knew what the word resilience meant, but, like Aimee, I hadn’t actually ever looked the word up; that is, until I declared it as my “Word of the Year” for 2014 on January 1st.
Resilience as defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary is: 1) the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens; 2) the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.
Upon reading this definition, something struck me as I examined my own level of resilience. I realized that it’s when I’ve forgotten my resiliency that I have suffered longer than I needed to. It’s when I’d bounced back, but didn’t take the extra effort to bounce forward—use the setback as an opportunity to learn and grow—once I’d bounced back, that I struggled to succeed or meet my goals.
Last year, my word was more of a phrase. It was “show up” because I hadn’t been honoring my commitments to exercise, write, and other things that I’d set goals around. I wasn’t showing up for myself. Much like I needed reminding to “show up” for myself last year, I realized when I read the definition of resilience that I needed reminding that I have it, resilience. Because, sometimes, I forget.
The funny thing is, my life is surrounded by extraordinarily resilient people, and I still forget. When I read the definition of resilience, I was humbled with endless mental images and faces of people who embody resilience.
Everyone is resilient. You were born that way. Think about what it takes to even become a human being and then being born! Incredible. Sure, just like anything else, you may have brought a little less or a little more resilience with you than the next guy, but you’ve got it.
Problems and challenges always have been and always will be a part of the human experience. Think about it. You’ve overcome some level of hardship because, whether you realized it at the time or not, you ultimately drew on one thing—resilience—to survive the hardship, setback or trauma. You are resilient.
Remembering your resilience has to do with how you navigate a problem, and more important, how you grow personally—bounce forward—because of the problem.
When it comes to remembering my resiliency, I have more than a few role models around me on any given day. I have decided to dedicate this year’s posts to some of these people, these heroes, starting with the one person who has taught me more about resilience than anyone ever has and or ever could. My little sister, Polly.
Polly, the last of nine kids and a year and a half younger than me, wasn’t expected to live past five years old. Despite her suffering which included living in poverty and no food sometimes, she almost made it to her fourteenth birthday! Polly’s body was crooked, weak, and died a slow death. She was profoundly disabled, physically and mentally. Her movements were limited and painful. Straightening her arms to slip into the sleeve of a coat became painful so she wore a crocheted shawl (sort of like a poncho) that could be pulled over her head and cover her broken body.
My mom gave me Polly’s shawl many years ago. Draped over my legs, it keeps me warm as I write this. I pray to Polly, I talk with her, and I thank her for teaching me things I didn’t know I was learning at the time. One of those things is about what it means to be resilient to adversity. I learned through my own suffering, just like everyone else, to become resilient to certain things, but it is upon reflection of Polly’s life, her endurance through profound suffering that helps me appreciate resiliency at a level I’ve never personally known.
Polly reminds me, because sometimes I forget, life really isn’t that big a deal if I show up for myself. She reminds me, because sometimes I forget, I am resilient. Because you are reading this, you are resilient too. Don’t forget.