Humans are resilient. Have you noticed? You don’t have to take my word for it because there’s a new book out called The Resilience Dividend. It’s written by research psychologist Judith Rodin. She says humans have tremendous capacity to not only recover, but also grow from disruptive experiences. Put simply: we get knocked down and we get back up again.
Resilience requires a couple of key ingredients: 1) you must still be breathing (ha!) and 2) you must believe. I’ve talked about belief before, that I thought belief was this giant leaping thing, an overwhelming faith thing. No. Just breathe (see above, you’re doing it anyway) and believe. In what? Well, something better, of course. A better day? Is that 23 hours and 59 minutes and 60 seconds of too much? How about a better moment? That’s only three seconds. Surely you can find three seconds of goodness in an entire day? Oh, look! The sun came up this morning! Now, there is something to believe in.
I used to be the ultimate pessimist. The glass was not even half empty. It was broken. Shattered.
And ten years ago, that’s exactly what my life was. Shattered. For two full years, death and destruction was the trend. Sometimes I don’t even like telling my story, because it’s too much for people to handle, having never experienced multiple losses. I’ll admit though, I’m a tragedy junkie (that pessimistic tendency?), drawn to stories of doom and gloom, curious as to how people handle “too much”, how they survive it. Then, it was my turn and my response was surprising, even to me.
I’ll recount the death bits quickly, to soften the blows. Early 2004, I lost my dog, my mom, my cat within two weeks. My mom was the biggest loss here, obviously, and the closest person to me that I’d ever lost. It felt surreal. But I got back up, because that’s what humans do. Then there was 10 months of mostly fun sprinkled with mostly normal life stuff. The fun was a whole mess of trips, with Tahiti, a 25th wedding anniversary surprise from Hugh, my husband, the highlight. The mostly normal life stuff was overseeing what our three teenage children were up to, which was sometimes maybe not in accordance with Ontario’s Road Safety Act.
Then, there was the big knockout punch, the really HUGE (Hugh actually called himself that, after he slurred it once at a Buffalo Bills game) blow. In late November, Hugh went off to Edmonton for a quick business trip and died. “Healthiest dead man we’ve ever seen,” the coroner’s office said. Take the “dead” part out, and the fact that he was lying on a cold, steel slab in a morgue and this would be news to really run with.
Honestly, when I came to after that punch, when I got back up again, I found it challenging because one foot was six feet lower than the other one. Try it. It’s a serious limp problem for sure, but I think that’s what happens when you lose someone you’re intimately connected with. Part of you dies too.
Let’s fast forward through some additional deaths. Hugh’s mother, a dear friend and mentor, was diagnosed with cancer two months after Hugh died, succumbing to her illness at the end of June 2005. A puppy was hit and killed on the road (okay, insert my wailing to the Heavens, “Dear God, am I not even allowed a puppy?” right here) and my father, a WWII veteran, died on Remembrance Day 2005. Wow. That’s a lot of death and when you add in a mess of fires – a building, a car, a boat – and flat tires (six!), that’s a lot of destruction.
I was starting to get the feeling of being seriously tested. Hmmm. How to pass the test? After throwing a zillion things at my grief – lomi lomi massage, grief therapy, yoga, acupuncture, you name it – to gain some strength, I decided, well, I seem to be climbing mountains every day in this foreign life without Hugh. Why not go climb a really big one, like say Mt. Kilimanjaro? Hugh always wanted to climb that damn mountain and Make-A-Wish Foundation was looking for climbers.
There was months of preparation – fundraising, physical training, gathering equipment, research – and then seven, gruelling days of trekking in an upward direction. Climbing a mountain such as this is not for the faint of heart, but truly, Mt. Kilimanjaro is a gentle, spiritual goddess. When I reached her summit on January 7, 2007, I was reunited with something that had been lacking in my life for the previous couple of years: a boundless blue sky offering abundance. And along with it? Truth. Beauty.
I guess I passed the resilience test, because the 20,000 feet of earth I gathered up that week in Africa has done a mighty fine job of dividing my sparkling previous life from my sparkling new one.