“Keep your face to the sunshine
and you cannot see the shadows.
It’s what the sunflowers do.”
~ Helen Keller~
There is something to be said for resilience. It is the grit that makes us work harder after failing. It is the motivation that gets out of bed after something devastating. And frankly, it is the reason why many of us are still alive today.
Just think about where we would be as a human race if we were not resilient. I really can’t imagine that world. For without resilience, we would not, could not have moved passed so many events in history: slavery, war, genocide, epidemics and economic collapse. Generations of people have endured some horrific experiences.
Yet, the human race is still here. We have learned, or so I like to think, from our history. We have created a better world. We have learned to survive.
One of my mom’s biggest lessons to me and my sisters was to “be a survivor.” As kids we used to run around teasing each other and singing, “Be a survivor. Be a survivor.” We never took it seriously. I look back now and think, Mom may have been onto something there.
When I joined the Army Reserve, I quickly learned the phrases, suck it up and drive on and embrace the suck. I’d laugh and think, man, the Army must have talked to my mom!
Regardless of the source, the message was the same. Shit will happen in life that you cannot control. So, you can either learn to deal with it and move on or you can let it destroy you. That doesn’t mean you look at life like a Polly Anna and pretend the bad does not exist. No, that is just dumb advice. You can’t ignore abuse, racism and crisis. However, you can survive. But you can only do that with resilience. Because without resilience, would you ever get up after being ruthlessly abused? Would you ever want to leave your house after watching a loved one die? Would you ever want fight after a debilitating diagnosis?
I don’t think we could.
My mom survived a lot. Her mother was a mean spirited woman. She was not allowed to go past the 5th grade because she was “too stupid to learn.” (Ironically, those “smart” adults just couldn’t figure out that my “stupid” mom could barely hear out of either of her ears. Yeah, who was stupid in this scenario?) She was blamed for stealing something at a store by a “cool” kid. As a result, she was then sent off to a detention home where she was molested. Then, when she was married off, her then-husband cheated on her and beat her when she confronted him about it. So there she was in a foreign country, a near-deaf girl with a 5th-grade-education trying to figure out how to get divorced and go home.
Fortunately, my mom was resilient, and later met my dad. As a kid, I didn’t know her struggles. And naturally, I thought I knew more about the world than her. (I was a teen after all. Don’t they know EVERYTHING?) However, now, I look back and think, wow. This woman was a survivor, like literally.
According to the Helen Keller quote above, my mom survived by following the sun. She didn’t focus on her shadows, her pain. She didn’t let the dark experiences lead her life. After dealing with them the best she could, she followed the sun, the light of hope and moved toward a future. Like a sunflower, she focused on the light (good).
I will admit, before today, I never realized that sunflowers actually followed the sun throughout the day. I mean I knew they, like other flowers, grew towards the sun, but I never thought their heads actually moved throughout the day as the sun moved.
So when I was looking for a fun quote to accompany my macro shots of some sunflowers in my yard, I found more than I planned. I found some quotes, some facts and some inspiration. (So thanks Sally for hosting this challenge!)
The Army found this inspiration a number of years ago too. The embrace the suck phrase has been replaced with a lot of talk about resilience. It is more acceptable to seek help/counseling now than when I joined 15 years ago. As a matter of fact, the old stereotypes are fading away. Asking for help or taking a break is no longer a sign of weakness. As a matter of fact, taking a knee is a good sign of leadership. It shows that a leader is self aware enough to realize they need help or a break. It shows that a leader can recognize the signs of the stress in their Soldiers if they can see it in themselves.
That makes sense and is certainly more realistic than just ignoring all the bad. The Army even teaches us resiliency classes now. They instruct us on various techniques to be grateful, find happiness and endure the bad. Essentially, they teach us to survive the bad and find hope in a better tomorrow.
And according to Helen Mirren, following the good/light/hope is a wonderful life lesson.
“I don’t think there’s anything on this planet that more trumpets life that the sunflower. For me that’s because of the reason behind its name. Not because it looks like the sun but because it follows the sun. During the course of the day, the head tracks the journey of the sun across the sky. A satellite dish for sunshine. Wherever light is, no matter how weak, these flowers will find it. And that’s such an admirable thing. And such a lesson in life.”
And I when I put all this information together it makes me laugh a little, and even a little more resilient. Because, now when I look at sunflowers, I will forever think of my mom, Soldiers and hope.
Forever, I will think: I am a Soldier. I am survivor. I am a sunflower. I am all three at once, and no matter what, I will focus on the sun (and Son).