Resilient like a flower


“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.”

~Helen Mirren~

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).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge ~ Macro.

 

Master of Resiliency or Mask of Happiness?


With the death of Robin Williams recently, I started thinking about loneliness and depression. People seem to be surprised that someone so fun and happy could take his own life. I loved his work, but I cannot say I followed his personal life, so I can only guess on his struggles.

What I do know from my own life experiences though, is that those fun and happy people are often the ones most in need. They are the life of the party, always positive and ever so happy. They are trying new things and always on the go. How could they be sad?

Reasons for someone’s sadness are too many to guess, but I know that when I am sad, I get busier. It is as if I will not feel any pain if I am doing things. I will not feel lonely if strangers surround me at some event. I will not feel lost if I am out in nature. If I photograph beautiful things, I will absorb that glow into my soul. Sometimes it works. Other times it is just a mask for some ache in my heart.

People say I am brave for going solo to things (like concerts, sporting events, or dinners). I do not think it is bravery but a necessity. First of all, I spent so many years NOT doing things and being miserable that I feel like I MUST make up for lost time. I lost years in unhappy relationships and multiple deployments. And through some of that time, I lost myself. I forgot who I was in those relationships. I could not recall what I needed or wanted. I merely existed to make other people happy.

Ironically, deployments helped center me in many ways. I recalled who I was, what I was capable of and what made me tick. I felt as though I had accomplished things that mattered. I saw the world and gained an appreciation for life. However, those years took time from loved ones that I could never get back – time where I could have worked on those relationships and myself.

Therefore, in effort to gain some ground on life, I try to seize the moments I can. I will take myself to the symphony in a fancy dress. I will get a horse and then figure out how to ride. I will sign myself up for a painting or trapeze class. I want to live. I want to see and feel all I can. I want to appreciate and use up every moment I have for those who never made it home from war, and the girl who lost all that time.

What I have realized recently though, is that my other reason for staying busy is to curb sadness. It is hard to frown when you are white water rafting or listening to some amazing violinist who makes you want to dance. It is nearly impossible to feel disconnected to the world while doing paddleboard yoga. Some of my greatest moments of peace come when I am wandering through the woods on my horse. I have also been pleasantly surprised that I can actually paint a fill-in-the-line design that does not look like a 4th grader did it (perhaps a 6th grader, but definitely not 4th).

I did not realize that by doing these things I was hiding my feelings of sadness…until I stopped. When left sitting alone, I felt, well… alone. Not that I do not need and enjoy moments of solitude, but there are times I fill the void of company with activity. It is as if I am trying to prove to myself that I am not wasting space on the earth. If I embrace all that life has to offer, I must be living it. If I am filling my time with accomplishments of events, I will feel complete.

The Army has started giving courses on resiliency. They cover character strengths, putting things into perspective and hunting good things for your spirit. The courses I have received instruction on so far are quite interesting and thought provoking. With those courses in mind, I think, maybe I am not necessarily depressed as much as I am resilient at holding that hopelessness back from controlling me. If I stay active and self aware, I can conquer those moments of darkness when they try to cloak my spirit for joy.

With a four-day weekend coming up, I have a full calendar of events in my I-don’t-have-time-for-stupid-sadness arsenal. They range from learning to make sushi to kayaking to witnessing a field of hot air balloons. I know it all sounds random, but such is my life. (And arsenals by definition need to be all encompassing, don’t they?) So after I jampack my free time with a laundry list of adventures, I can decide on whether I am embracing life, hiding misery or mastering resiliency…that is, if I find time.