Resilience and the Light

IMG_0310On the US holiday of Thanksgiving last month, I had a conversation with my 86-year-old father. I noticed he was reading a book about the second world war, the time of his childhood and early adolescence. Previous on rare occasions, my father had shared very brief memories of that time. He is the first generation of our family born in the United States, and he remembered, during the war, stories of the suffering of relatives far away in Leningrad.

I asked my father: “This year—2016—how does it compare to those times?”

“It was the War,” my father said, as I heard the emphasis of the capital “W” in his voice, “it was terrible.”

A few days later, I had the opportunity to leave my home in the desert to visit the Pacific Ocean. I took notice of the metaphorical contrast of my dry and perpetually sunny desert residence and the deep welcoming waters of the Pacific. Also I noted the many Native American communities spread along the interstate from the desert to the shore. The drive jolted my awareness of fissures across the land, sacred space colonized by highways—all for the sake of convenience for the colonizers. Still in these breaches, communities envision the future, revitalizing aspirations, protecting the waters that remain.

IMG_0311And there is light. That first early morning at the Pacific, a rainbow bloomed in the sky. As the colors deepened, I frantically tapped the white circle on my ancient camera phone. Almost immediately, a pop-up message indicated that the phone was full and would not take any more pictures. I took a deep breath, let it out slowly. My beloved spouse stood next to me. The colors grew more vibrant against the sky’s diminishing fog.

Back in the desert the day after winter solstice, I consider the power of resilience. Resilience is not merely grit, and is not necessarily an inborn trait, available only to a select few. Science suggests that resilience can be cultivated. My experience suggests that community offers powerful examples of such cultivation, such as Circle. Becoming still in the presence of nature provides another instance of community, for envisioning life beyond the ordinary.

Listening to my father speak his truth gives me additional insight in the processes of resilience, to emerge from difficulty with discernment for the future. Emergence remains neither natural nor eventual. Transformation is not a given. Each moment of moving through difficulty can bring heartbreak, and even conquering the initial difficulty does not necessarily bring permanent relief.

Yet even as the struggle continues, there are reasons to hold out hope. The morning fog offers promise, bringing into consciousness an unexpected rainbow, that ancient symbol of glistening light after a pause in the flooding rains.

Susan Naomi Bernstein lives in Arizona where she writes, teaches, and quilts.

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