Let’s Get Real About Resilience

A few months back I sat next to a mother who was sitting Shiva for her son that was killed in a terrorist attack. Some time later I was shopping in the center of town and I saw her walking down the street, bags in her hand and looking as mundane as ever. At that moment I thought, “Do people walking down this street know what she has been through the last few months?” Of course, even if her face was shown on TV for a day or two, the answer was no.

We all walk by each other in government offices, at work, on the train, in the supermarket, and even if we don’t know what that person has been through, it’s a good assumption they have been through something, if not many things, and perhaps they are still in it, or it just ended, or it ended a long time ago but it left an everlasting scar. In any case, they are carrying something more than their packages.

I recently heard from Alain De Botton, a philosopher, speaker and writer, that when someone has a broken arm we all see it and offer to hold the door open and assist in any way we can. Yet we all have broken hearts, souls, and pieces of our psyche but they don’t have slings or casts so no one sees it. If it doesn’t show on the outside, no one is going to hold open the door for us.

I have seen so many people go through terrible, horrible, tragic things. And yes, I know we all have, but I will have the audacity to state I’ve seen perhaps more than the average person my age. I honestly have seen people at their lowest darkest moments where there is no hope, no light, no way out of the depth of inner confusion and insanity… and yet a few weeks or months later they are shopping on Yaffo, or Central Ave or Main Street. Where did the pain go? “They must have so much strength,” is many times the first thought that runs through our heads.

Well I hate the word strength. I will never look at someone going through a hard time and say, “Wow, you are so strong”. Leave strength for people with muscles because walking through pain has nothing to do with strength. It has everything to do with the capacity and ability to be resilient. When a person is in pain, and the list of scenarios of what causes pain in this world reaches infinity, then he/she has two choices. Give up or move on. Granted, pressing pause and temporarily giving up, or shall we call it seemingly giving up, is necessary and healthy. Everyone needs to feel their own pain because suppressing it will do nothing besides cause a later internal (or external) explosion. But eventually, the show must go on. Some people have to keep moving for their spouse, some will move on for their children or the little old lady across the street who relies on them for doing her weekly laundry. For others it might be simply the notion of “This is what G-d wants”. Others might feel the inspiration comes from within, and yet others might keep going with the inspiration of a “thing” such as music, art, nature, anything. Some might have no choice to go on and they fake it until they make it, which with time they eventually do make it. Some might need help from support groups, therapy or even medications. Whatever it is, human beings are resilient. Time heals, keeping busy helps people not swim deeper into sadness and eventually, we somehow, at the right and non-designated time, jump back into the circus. And when we do, we will function, because there isn’t much choice. But the real question is, how are we doing on the inside when we are walking down the street with shopping bags in our hands.

The truth is, feelings have little to do with the human capacity to be resilient because resilience is a motion and action, not an adjective or a feeling. The feelings behind the act of resilience is an entire other chapter in itself, but the action of one day at a time, one step in front of the other, is the power of the human being.

Combating inner turmoil and partaking in mundane actions that are truly holy once you re-frame them, such as making a sandwich, is the highest level of self preservation. We do not live in an easy world, and stuff happens, and when they do we need to give ourselves time to recover, but our instincts for living a good life will kick in (eventually) and we will continue walking down the road of life. As the great Dora from Finding Nemo states,”Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”.

So just keep swimming.

About the Author
Sarah Nathan made Aliyah in 2007 from NY- single and passionate. She has two kids and lives in Jerusalem.
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