Resilient – Merriam-Webster defines this as “tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change”. This was a word used almost incessantly during the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 (this occasion, by the way, was over-commercialized, but I digress…). While editorials and TV specials and ceremonies on the ground all lauded the resilience of the individuals impacted by 9/11, much doubt has been raised about whether the United States of America came out a better and stronger country. Given the current state of affairs, most would say “no”. The country is more divided than ever over petty politics and partisanship.
I wonder if I am resilient. No, I mean, really resilient. I’ve been blessed with a good life so far. I really can’t say I’ve come across any great distress or life-changing misfortune to the point where I’ve had to cry out, “Why me?”. But if I ever did, could I bounce back? Think about Jaycee Lee Dugard, held as a sex slave for 18 years in a dark basement and forced to bear her rapist’s 2 children. Never mind bouncing back – could I have even had the resolve to want to see the light of day again? She says the only thing that kept her alive was the thought of her mother. How does one come out of a situation like that to lead a “normal” life? And yet here she is today, raising these children who must constantly remind her of the horrors she had to endure with her captors.
Pyschologists say that human beings are naturally resilient. Certainly, citizens in the Middle East and North Africa appear to be living proof of that. But until you know of any better life, you probably don’t consider yourself resilient. You’re just doing what you think is right. In the path of war and destruction, you just want a night of sleep with no bombing or gunfire, to come out alive the next day, and to find clean water. This is the only life you know.
Cancer patients knew a much better life before they were stricken. People who lost their homes in hurricanes or tornadoes had good homes before Mother Nature took them away. People who were hit by drunk drivers and became paraplegic as a result knew what it was like to have the use of their limbs. New Yorkers have always known what it’s like to live in a vibrant, urban mecca (not always feeling safe, but certainly never feeling under the threat of terrorist attacks). And so I suppose Jaycee Lee Dugard remembered a very happy childhood that was suddenly and maliciously stripped away from her one morning. But to have those memories hold her for 18 years… wow, that’s resilient.
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was bang on: “What does not kill him, makes him stronger”.