I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, August 1, 2021


The old oak from Rita Eberle-Wessner

Sometimes when I am at a loss for a header picture for my Sunday posts, I peruse the wonderful work of Rita Eberle-Wessner, one of my favorite artists on Flickr. She has the ability to capture dreamlike states in her art, and I chose this one for today, showing this gorgeous old oak tree. We don't have many such beautiful oak trees in this particular part of America, but I do remember when I was growing up these trees were so much more plentiful. Wikipedia tells me:
White oaks and oaks in general are held sacred by many cultures. The Celts believed oaks to be sacred because of their size, durability, and nourishing acorns. The Celts named the oak the King of Trees and used the oak tree during many rituals. ... They also believed that the burning of oak leaves purifies the atmosphere.

 This tree and picture symbolize the thought that has been on my mind this past week: resilience. I have followed the Tokyo Olympics this past week with real interest in how these athletes are dealing with so much adversity. And then I listened to a TED talk by Lucy Hone, entitled "Three Secrets of Resilient People." That link takes you to a transcript of the talk, which I enjoyed tremendously and hope you will, too.

She tells us of a horrific traffic accident in 2014 that killed her 12-year-old daughter, her daughter's best friend and the friend's mother as well. She was devastated, and although she had earned a masters in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and a PhD in wellbeing science/public health from Auckland University of Technology University, she found that she needed to find her own journey back to being mentally healthy and able to deal with the tragedy.

I know that many of you know that I too have lost two of my own, both having been sudden losses: one when my baby was 13 months old and contracted spinal meningitis, and the other when my grown 40-year-old son died of a heart attack while jogging, at the age of 40. Both of these events are long in my past, but I had to find a way to navigate through real grief. I was only 22 when Stephen died. Sick in the afternoon and dead that night. Chris was in the Army, where he was stationed in Germany and was on a three-month mission in Macedonia. Neither death was supposed to happen like that. But somehow I survived, and I have learned the lessons Lucy tells about in her talk. How to become resilient in the face of adversity.

Nobody who gets to be my age has a life without loss; it's part and parcel of the gift of being alive. We all die, even though we often forget that inconvenient truth while living our lives from day to day, but sometimes the loss of someone precious to us reminds us of this fact. Here are the three secrets of resilience, according to Lucy.

(1) Resilient people get that shit happens. Suffering is a part of everyday life, and no one I know has escaped it. Sometimes it comes from loss of a person, or it comes from an injury that keeps us from carrying out our daily lives like we think we should be able to. But nobody escapes unscathed, unless you live in a miraculous bubble. I'm not sure who I would be if I hadn't had such loss. It sure makes me treasure every day that I had with my departed loved ones,

(2) Resilient people are good at choosing where they put their attention. It reminds me of that famous and well-known phrase, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." I have found that one of the most healing things I can do is to remind myself of the many ways I am fortunate, and find a way to be grateful. Some people write a daily gratitude list, but Lucy suggests that if we are depressed, find three good things that happened to you today and think about them. I've been doing that while I wait for sleep to come to me, and I find it reassuring that there are always many good events in my daily life.

(3) Resilient people ask themselves, “Is what I’m doing helping or harming me?” Lucy says that this one has gotten the most feedback that it works. "Whether you’re ruminating over the past, or scrolling through social media, ask yourself whether what you’re doing — the way you’re thinking, the way you’re acting — is helping or harming you. That puts you back in the driver’s seat. It gives you some control over your decision-making.”

When I'm feeling down, I have a few techniques I use to help myself feel better, and the first one for me is always exercise of some sort: a walk in the forest or a session at the gym. It invariably gives me another perspective, and although whatever is bothering me doesn't go away, it changes my outlook. And there is the passage of time, the knowledge that whatever is happening will not keep me in the same state if I just look for something that will make me feel better. I like the idea of asking myself whether what I'm doing is helpful or harmful to my mental state.

I have watched Simone Biles come to grips with her inability to perform as expected, and not because of a physical inability but because she's not mentally able to push through her "twisties" as she calls it. Not knowing up from down while performing dangerous routines sounds terrifying. Last week I almost wrote in this post that I had a premonition that she might get hurt in the Olympics. I had a bad feeling, but I didn't know why, other than she has pushed herself almost beyond what is possible! But Simone chose to withdraw rather than go forward when she knew she shouldn't. I read recently that she was anxious to get the Olympics behind her so she could live a more normal life, and when they were pushed back a year, she was really devastated. So many people were counting on her to be flawless and she had to hang on for another year.

Well, in my opinion, she showed what a real heroine looks like. She did not try to push through it or keep going until she got hurt. And she has shown real grace and beauty in NOT performing. I don't know if she will enter either of the two remaining events she is scheduled to compete in. In some ways I hope she bows out and gives all the rest of us an example for taking care of ourselves first and not allowing the tremendous pressure we put on ourselves to dominate our lives. Simone is a true champion and survivor. Who knows how many lives she has changed for the better?

Like that old ancient oak tree, which has its roots deep into the earth, we are part of all that surrounds us, and we do get to choose what we focus on. I'd like to think that my invisible branches reach out and protect those less fortunate than me, and that I can provide a little virtual shade from the summer sun by sitting here in my dark room and tapping away at my keyboard, reveling in my dear partner sleeping away next to me, and giving thanks for the life I have right now, today.

I honor all those who struggle to make sense of our world today, and who share their insights with the rest of us. It makes me hopeful that we will get through another day with at least three good things to reflect on as we slip into another night of rest. I cherish you and give thanks for your presence in my life. I feel the call to visit the coffee shop and my dear friends there, as well. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well.


John's Island said...

DJan, I clicked on Eye early this morning with the primary objective being to thank you for your very kind comment on my blog yesterday. But as I read through this post it made me realize again why I so appreciate this connection we have going on through the blogosphere … Your weekly Sunday writings have been one of the best parts of blogging I’ve found. Today’s post especially hit home with me. Great title, Resilience, and I love that header image of the old oak. As you talked about suffering I thought of my recent studies with Eckhart Tolle … He says suffering is a great teacher. Suffering is going to happen and how we deal with it is one of the challenges of life. Thank you for the link to Lucy Hone’s “Three Secrets of Resilient People.” Wow, I should reread this post everyday this next week to make sure I put those three secrets to work! Number 3 seems it could be especially impactful. I’m going to focus on that first. Thank you for a wonderful post. Wishing you and SG a fine week ahead. John PS Did you enjoy the last couple of cool, comfortable days as much as I did? :-)

ApacheDug said...

DJan, this was a wonderful read. Loved the grand oak tree, loved your writings on resilience. Sometimes when I’m dealing with a head full of sand or a chronic medical thing, I think of older people I know, my aunts Terry & Dena, bloggers like you & Arkansas Patti and Gigi Hawaii, and wonder how you maintain such cheerful dispositions. I really do draw strength from all of you.

I know of the loss of your children too, I don’t see any parent ever getting over such a thing, but it’s impressive how you’ve managed to get on with living. My one sister who is 2 years younger than me…. for years she struggled to have a child and couldn’t. When she was 41, she finally learned she was pregnant, gave birth to a beautiful daughter. My niece is 17 now, tall & beautiful. She makes straight As, does volunteer stuff for her community, she’s the whole kit & kaboodle. And my sister has been telling me for all these years that if anything ever happened to Soph, she’d kill herself and I believe it, 100%. I wouldn’t blame her either, so that does make your living impressive.

Anyway, enjoyed the suggestions here too (to be & remain positive) and I really want to put those into practice. Again, a great post and I look forward to reading this again. I always do.

Arkansas Patti said...

Excellent post Djan. The photo alone had a calming effect. Really was impressed with your own resilience with what you have had to deal with. You are such a strong person who doesn't let things break you like they would many. You find the help, deal with them and grow. I really enjoyed the link to Lucy and found somethings there that I could easily apply to my own life. I really like the finding of 3 good things each day to negate the things that depress. This post will be one of the good things for me today. Thank you.

Gigi said...

What a beautiful post, DJan. Your Sunday post are always thought provoking and I appreciate them more than you will ever know. Have a wonderful week!

Boud said...

This has been a really significant post, thank you. So wise and calm. I agree with you about Simone Biles. Her integrity includes being responsible for herself, and doing the intelligent thing rather than bowing to pressure.

William Kendall said...

Wonderfully said, DJan.

Linda Reeder said...

I miss the mighty spreading oaks of my childhood days in the Willamette Valley, but I have always been happy with my choice to come to Seattle and eventually stay here. Those mighty trees standing alone out in the middle of a plowed field withstood all storms, until they succumbed to the chainsaws of developers.
We all have storms in our lives, and if we have survived we have learned some tricks of resiliency. I frequently ask myself if this article or program is adding anything good to my life or my knowledge. Is it worth my time and effort?
Simone Biles has weathered many storms in her young life, and it seems like now the chain saws are ready to attack her. She is right to put up her protective shield and find her own life to lead.

Linda Myers said...

I love this post, DJan. I wonder if people who aren't resilient live as long as those who are.

In our family, in the last two weeks, we have had an addict return to the streets, the death of a brother and of a father. Generally, these days, I roll with it. This is how life is. Not that I'm a stoic or divorced from my emotions.

I admire the courage of the young athletes.

Far Side of Fifty said...

"Do those things that you can do something about and pray about the rest" That is what I am focusing on.
It seems my resilience is being tested lately. The smoke and heat sure doesn't help.
My Dad's dementia is getting worse, he did not know me one day last week...but at Bingo time he knew me. The time is coming when my Mother will no longer be able to care for him...they need to be someplace safe and secure.
Oh well I will do what I can do.
My best to you this week. :)

Elephant's Child said...

“Is what I’m doing helping or harming me?” Is a wonderful thing to consider. I think I do but hadn't properly articulated it - many thanks.

Glenda Beall said...

Wonderful post, DJan. I agree with you about resilience. I never thought I could survive losing my loved ones, but somehow I did. And I am stronger now than I have ever been, I think. We heal at the broken places and often heal stronger than before. I will check out this TED talk. I am a fan of TED and I look forward to hearing this person talk.
As you can see from the comments of your readers, you make a difference in the lives of those who read your words. Thank you so much.

Anvilcloud said...

Great post, and anything else that I might say would be superfluous because you've said it all and well.

Rita said...

In the 80s I saw a t-shirt that expressed my belief on resilience. Big letters on the front said "Shit Happens". Makes me smile remembering to this day. We only get to make truly big choices a few times throughout our lifetimes. We often have no control over circumstances around us and happening to us. We do have thousands of little choices every single day. How we choose to live through those things out of our control or all the things in our control...that is what makes us who we are. How we choose to react...believing we have a choice as to how to react...can make life worse or better. I love her concept question about is this making my life better or worse. So true!
Simone Biles is a brave young woman who trusts herself. I agree.
And I LOVE the oak tree.
Have a great week, my friend. :)

Marie Smith said...

The third question about whether my behaviour is helping or harming me so a great reminder of what is important. Putting it in those terms gives it extra impact too.

Thank you! How fortunate we are to be able to communicate this way…something to be thankful for today.

Galen Pearl said...

What a powerful post. I got chills when I read it. You share so much from your heart and soul on this blog -- sometimes just simple pleasures in life -- sometimes deeply profound life lessons and experiences. You are such a gift. Thank you.

gigi-hawaii said...

So true about Simone Biles. I am glad that she was shown cheering on her teammates. I also liked gold medalist Suni Lee, who had to deal with her father's terrible accident and paralysis, before she competed.