Monday, July 13, 2015

Resilient is more than strong

I don't think I wrote about it here, but my word for 2014 was Grace. I selected it from a bowl at church and pored over it for a few months, studying the morphology and religious and lay interpretations if the word. I found over the course of a few months, the word grace came up often in sermons and speeches, but also in conversation, readings, or general "symbols" around me. Maybe because I was thinking about it and paid more attention...or maybe because the universe was trying to get me to pay attention. 

In fact, when I came to Portland for my interview -- the one that eventually led us on the giant leap-of-faith relocation adventure we've been on -- the company took me out to dinner in a beautiful restaurant that had previously been a church. Its name, I'm sure you'll guess: Grace. I smiled inwardly throughout dinner, grateful and gracious (and hopefully graceful) and winking at the universe for this big flashing sign that everything about this idea was okay. The next morning I met an old friend for breakfast and I told her about the interview and the experience at the restaurant, saying "you might think this is silly, but..." and I watched tears fill her eyes. "It's not silly at all, T," she said, "because I've been going through a really hard time and on the drive over here I prayed for clear, visible grace and gratitude to get me through this week." Ta-da! That, right there, be Grace with a capital G.

Fast forward to the first week of January 2015, two months after our move, a time in which we had snow up to our knees and cold like I've never experienced, no friends locally, children who were homesick and having trouble making new friends, Honey and I both with brand new jobs (his at the time a really bad-paying brand new job), a big empty house 500 miles away, and a whole lot of bills to pay. The days in Maine in January are short; darkness falls just beyond 4:00pm, so by the time 8:00 rolls around, my body was telling me it was time for sleep. But I think some of that sleepiness was depression, too. You know that if you just go to bed early, maybe read a stupid book for a little while, tomorrow will bring new happies. 

I didn't have a church yet, so I decided to pick a word at random to study: Resilience. This word has intrigued me for a long time, since attending a talk in which the speaker told us -- an audience of all women -- that being strong isn't necessarily the answer to life. But being resilient is key. Resilience literally means the ability to rebound or recoil, but in human terms it's more. In schools these days there's a lot of talk about developing "grit" in kids -- which is really just jargon for developing resilience to persevere through difficult situations. 

Every human being will face change and uncertainty, sometimes every single day. We know this. Throughout this year, I have pondered this word resilience at length, rolled it around in my brain and chewed on it with my morning oatmeal. I think, really, resilience is what it means to keep moving forward when faced with crushing news, how the very experience of moving forward shapes us and forms us into Full-Grown People. Being resilient means acknowledging the blisters on our feet and the scorching heat of the desert, wallowing for a few moments in the pain, then picking up the backpack and hiking up the hill and out of the valley.

I wear a piece of sea glass on a long chain around my neck. It's a simple piece of jewelry presented by my grandmother years ago; my sister and cousin have similar pendants, too. Sea glass is a beach-living thing, obviously, and we spend a lot of time nowadays searching for it in the sand. But this particular piece means more to me than just a pretty ornament to remind me of sunny seaside days. Think about sea glass, about its life cycle: A bottle or dish is dropped in the sea, whether purposely or not, where it is battered and bashed by time and elements. Genuine sea glass can take 7-10 years to wear into a smooth, small piece. During that time the glass loses its sharp edges, it's smoothed and rounded and changes shape multiple times. Its shimmer dulls, its surface becomes pocked and scarred in unique ways. It may even change color, as happened with ancient bottles that turned from green to black (the most valuable sea glass, by the way, are the older pieces). 

But then...after all that tumbling and changing, a child finds it on the beach and hands it to his mother, who tucks it into her pocket. She immediately begins planning the wire she'll wrap around this piece; it's perhaps too big for a ring but would look amazing as a pendant. She holds the glass in her hand and feels its smoothness, the cold comforting weight. She knows just the friend to present this pendant to, as well, the friend who is dealing with more adversity in two months than most people see in a lifetime, as a talisman and gentle reminder of love, hope, and transformation. 

What was once a plain old bottle is now a gem -- a "reverse gem," made by man but refined by nature, with potential to be turned into something way more beautiful and meaningful by creative, nurturing hands. Sea glass, to me, has become a major symbol of resilience. Which is why I wear this piece over my heart, why I clutch it when I feel weak or scared or hurt. I bet that bottle felt overwhelmed when it was tossing in the sea, too. 

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