Three weeks ago a fire destroyed a lot of things my family and I used to own.
Life goes on, fortunately.
We are now in the recovery phase of managing our personal disaster.
When I’ve talked with colleagues about work related issues during the past three weeks the conversation frequently turns to the fire — usually at the end of whatever we’re talking about.
“How are you doing?” I’m asked.
I am unable to express how engulfingly supportive people have been to me and my family. But when I am asked how I’m doing, I really don’t know the answer.
My unthinking analytical default is to parse the sentence and ask, “How am I doing what?”
But that would be a jerk response. I know the question is meant in a socially sincere context. It deserves an equally sincere response.
“I’m fine, thanks,” doesn’t cut it because it is untrue.
“I’m devestated,” also doesn’t work, for the same reason.
I’m left with selecting something from the broad middle between stiff upper lip and what my son calls a pity party response.
I’ve discovered, however, that at least with homeland security folks, I can say, “Thanks for asking. I’m being resilient.”
I’m not sure what I mean when I say that, but it feels like an authentic response.
I think I first came across the word resilient (as I’m latching on to it) in Steve Flynn’s 2007 book The Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation. Since then, oceans of words have been poured into explaining what resilience is, how to do it, how to be it, and how to measure it. Individuals can be resilient, and so can communities and nations and economies. There are very simple definitions of resilience in the literature and tortuously complicated definitions. But I am increasingly aware of the chasm between the language of resilience and the experience of it.
I’ve started asking first responders I know what their experience of resilience has been. Not their experience of the concept, but their experience of the experience of resilience.
I had a work-related conversation a few days ago with a police official I know, Pat Walsh. After the work part was finished, we started talking about resilience.
Here’s a note Pat sent me on Monday. I like what he wrote. I had not seen it expressed quite like this in the resilience literature. It resonated with my current experience. I have his permission to share it.
I thought about the resiliency question after I hung up and I still had a mile or so to go [on my walk] so I started to think. My out of breath thoughts are sometimes the best, or so I think.
I have seen people lose everything in fires, accidents or to violence. I am always amazed at how calm the women in the situation are once they have their head wrapped around the situation. But then the things that make or break those affected is always interesting to me.
Some can handle the actual incident, but the aftermath, insurance claim, rebuilding, restarting is the last straw and is what actually breaks them.
Other people are a wreck with the event, but healing for them is the process of rebuilding.
I do not have the answer to why this is, but I have a hypothesis.
I think the people who handle trauma are the ones who are surrounded by family and friends (or kind strangers). We are all self reliant and stubbornly hang on to the idea that we can do it without the help of others (or we think we need too).
I wish I had a dime for every time someone said, “Why did this happen? What is the point?”
Well if you believe in God I would say the point is so you learn this is a fleeting life, and so that others can be tested to step up and help their fellow man.
If you are not a believer, I would say, the point is so others may learn what it is like to stop thinking about themselves and help another in need. It is in helping others that we are most fulfilled.
We can teach resilience all day long, but at the end of the day it is how one reacts to the incident and how others come to the aid. Both benefit, some more than others.
[A firefighter friend] did a video for [a course]…. It is worth watching. In his video he expresses disgust with himself for turning away a homeless man who wanted water. It haunts him to this day. I have those demons as well, and I would say we all do.
So in short, resilience is the act of coming to the aid of those in need.
Pat wrote about individual resilience. I want to believe the idea can be expanded to communities and to a nation.
Maybe it already is.