On Resilience

For quite some time now, I’ve been rather taken by a bit of what is either street art or graffiti that I walk by relatively often. I like it because it’s relatable and because it starts a story in the middle, which is really where most stories start.

An admission of what we want to do but can’t do is a necessary step to learning. We are often best at learning when we want to, which is unfortunately not always when we need to. “I wish I could say beautiful words” means that I want to say those words. “But I can’t” reinforces the struggle. And here comes a choice. Such a claim can either remain aspirational, or such a claim can be a call to do something differently, which is what it means to learn.

A friend of mine often says, “There are two choices: Either accept it or change it.” Sometimes acceptance is of the self and sometimes of the situation, but both are a choice. I can either wish for those words, knowing many wishes remain so, or I can recognize that right now I don’t have those words, but I can do the work of finding them.

In fairytales where wishes are expressed and granted, characters are relatively passive until someone comes along with the power to grant the wish. This is the active agent in the story. To grant a wish means to make something happen that was previously impossible. There is indeed a time and a place for this in our world, but the growth and satisfaction that come from doing something for oneself cannot be overstated. I can wish for beautiful words, I can dream about them, I can lament that I don’t have them . . . or I can work for them. And if I do so, I will likely find many other words on the way.

Of course, we do not always get what we work for. Sometimes, gracefully or not, we fail. That hard work leads only to success is a myth in the realm of fairytales and children’s stories, and there is a place for this in our world, too. But there is also the reality of failure. It is true that we can work hard, that we can accept something or change it, that we can dedicate months and years to a pursuit and still fall short. The task is then in standing up after this experience, recognizing how far we’ve come, and understanding that we worked because it mattered. We may have failed, but we tried, and that’s part of being human. To be human means that there are things that matter to us.

I remember when it was cool to behave as though you didn’t care about anything. And I remember how shallow that felt because if no one cared, what was the point of doing anything at all? The world we live in depends on people not only caring, but caring enough to act. This is how the world turns.

(The danger, however, is in what it is that we want and the work we are willing to do to get it. The satisfaction of desire can very quickly grow dark. (Or maybe I’ve been watching too many crime shows.) For now, let’s leave that out. That is a different discussion for a different day.)

Finding what we care about, working towards it, and continuing to work despite failure is resilience. Sometimes we are stuck in one stage (perhaps mourning failure) and sometimes in another (perhaps fixated on trying again and again). The point is that resilience is not an act, but rather a process. Sometimes just getting up and going to work is victory and resilience, even if it looks like failure and defeat from the outside. And it’s okay to stop. It’s okay to start over. It’s okay to decide that we just can’t be the way we want to be and so we’ll try something else instead. The process of wanting, trying, learning, and trying again remains.

“I wish I could say beautiful words but I can’t” might be an admission of defeat, but perhaps that is what is necessary to move forward. After all, we cannot continue doing exactly what we have been doing and expect different results. “I wish I could say beautiful words but I can’t” could also be a feeble attempt at an excuse – I can’t, so I will stop trying. And in this case, it could open a conversation for those brave enough to have it.

We can wear resilience like a badge, fling it as a weapon, or cloak ourselves in it as a shield. That we have cared enough to do so is what matters.

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