It has been an exhausting week for many of us. I know that Sheryl’s family in Houston and my family are all safe and secure in dry areas now but the week has been filled with crisis and emotion. More troubling is that as we sit here, there are still some dealing with life threatening conditions and hoping for rescue, a full week since the storm came ashore. Last Shabbat, as Dora and I drove north to Vancouver so I could officiate at a wedding, we were on the phone with the National Guard and Red Cross trying to get a rescue boat to her brother’s home as it filled up with water. We were in constant contact with our mothers, children, granddaughter (though she was unfazed by the rain) and other family members checking on their physical and mental health. Many of you reached out over the internet through email and social media. We do appreciate all the concern.
Our families were lucky, there was no loss of life. All the stuff, certainly filled with memories, can all be replaced. Many of our friends, homes flooded for the 2nd or 3rd time in as many years, will begin to pick up the pieces of their water soaked lives and rebuild and renew. How does one do that? We place so much importance on the accumulation of things in our lives. But as my sister in law remarked in a text, lives over stuff any day of the week.
We have seen countless stories of sheer terror and amazing expressions of human care. Images have flooded our lives and screens of people of all colors carrying others of all colors through toxic waters to safety. I remember one such flood about 45 years ago as me and my brother went down the street from our home to push cars out of the water. These were total strangers to us, but we didn’t care. I watched yesterday as millions of dollars in contributions poured in for the charities on the ground. As fast as the rains came, so has the support for one another. $5 here, a child’s piggy bank, a million $ donation from somewhere else. All because we, an America built on the idea of community, can open its arms wide, especially when people are in need.
I am convinced that this is re·sil·ience. It is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; it is toughness. Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences. Research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary. People commonly demonstrate resilience.
Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn’t experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress. Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.
There are many factors that contribute to resilience. Many studies show that the primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family. Relationships that create love and trust, provide role models and offer encouragement and reassurance help bolster a person’s resilience. Othr factors are the capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out. A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities. Skills in communication and problem solving. The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses. All of these are factors that we can develop in ourselves. How does a person, facing such trama, move forward? They did deep within themselves and find their center and let it grow.
Developing resilience is a personal journey. People do not all react the same to traumatic and stressful life events. Make connections. Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Becoming active in civic groups, your synagogue, or other local groups helps with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better.
Accept that change is a part of living. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter. Mainly your reaction to change around you. Move toward your goals. My dear friend, Mike Segal who spoke here a year ago says … “Mile by mile is a trial. Yard by yard is hard. But inch by inch, it’s a cinch.”
The key to building personal resilience is personal and intentional. Each of us has to identify ways that are likely to work well for us as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience.
Resilience involves maintaining flexibility and balance in your life as you deal with stressful circumstances and traumatic events. Think of resilience as similar to taking a raft trip down a river.
On a river, you may encounter rapids, turns, slow water and shallows. As in life, the changes you experience affect you differently along the way.
In traveling the river, it helps to have knowledge about it and past experience in dealing with it. Your journey should be guided by a plan, a strategy that you consider likely to work well for you.
Perseverance and trust in your ability to work your way around boulders and other obstacles are important. You can gain courage and insight by successfully navigating your way through white water. Trusted companions who accompany you on the journey can be especially helpful for dealing with rapids, upstream currents and other difficult stretches of the river.
You can climb out to rest alongside the river. But to get to the end of your journey, you need to get back in the raft and continue.
One of our favorite shows on TV was West Wing. We own the whole series and have watched it from beginning to end more than once. I think that our favorite character in the show was President Jeb Bartlett. He was a mixture of teacher, preacher and politician. In each episode, there would be some crisis, an international event or a tragedy. After the storms subsided or the crisis was averted, Preisdent Bartlett would walk into the Oval office passing by the desk of Dorothy Landingham, his secretary. He would always say: “What’s next? Mrs. Landingham! What’s next?”
That is the statement of resilience. What’s next …
I want to end tonight with a poem by Maya Angelou …
Still I Rise
BY MAYA ANGELOU
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
And so do we …