Our Creative Lives: Resilience

Someone I care a lot about has been going through some hard stuff this past year. She’s taken hit after relentless hit. It’s been brutal. We were talking things over the other day and she wondered out loud “How much more resilience do I have?” Fair question. Knowing her as I do, I’d say she has a lot. Although I totally get that she might not be feeling it.

There are so many ways that life hurts us. And contrary to some opinions, there is no rhyme or reason to hardship. Sometimes we take a pounding: We lose the job. Our baby walks out on us. The dog dies. There’s not enough money for food. We get t-boned in the intersection by some dude with no insurance. Our submission gets rejected. We climb unsteadily out of the abyss, only to be met with a boot to the teeth. Bitch slapped again, we start to question everything, most of all our ability to cope. Sure, some difficulties are of our own making, born of depravity, drunkenness, stupidity and the like. But I’m talking about the things we have no control over. In particular, I’m thinking about people who did everything “right” but still ended up busted in one way or another. Is resilience finite? Where does it come from anyway? better.days

Sometimes survival demands a measure of creativity. Resilience is relative to our ability to be resourceful when we’re up against it. We have to be willing to trust that one small idea or to do the thing that is immediately in front of us, even if we don’t have any sense of where it’s leading. When there’s no life raft, we go for the driftwood. The big picture isn’t always a reliable guide anyway.

Our resilience is bolstered by whatever little sparks of joy that we can find along the way: a quirky conversation with a stranger on the bus, the wiggly butt of a puppy passing by or a gift of fresh blueberries from the neighbor’s garden. These are tiny affirmations that all is not lost and that we are not really alone. To whatever extent we can tune into these simple wonders, we are resilient.

We are living in a tricky time. The old assumptions about work, career and livelihood have crumbled into oblivion. There are no guarantees and hard work does not always translate to opportunity. Jobs are scarce. Smart, responsible people are struggling to survive. The bootstrap paradigm is dubious at best. And so we trudge on through adversity and uncertainty, piecing things together as best we can, while trying to maintain a sense of grace and dignity. We need resilience now more than ever.

Resilience is what we have left when the platitudes have dried up and blown away; when the tried and true is anything but; when God is nowhere to be found. It lives in each of us, even when our instincts feel muddy. It’s not faith and it’s not hope. It’s simply inhaling and exhaling through each precarious beat.

If nothing else, resilience is stubbornness. It’s digging in our heels, staring head-on into the asshole that is life and saying, “Oh no you don’t, motherfucker.” It’s refusal to give in, no matter how profusely we’re bleeding. It’s the fundamental belief that we matter. And if stoicism and grit are all we’ve got left, then so be it. Hit me baby one more time.

Resilience is a decision.  We make it every day.