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Letting Go and Bouncing Back


I have this sack of behaviors that I keep stuffed under my bed, hoping to forget they exist. Occasionally I do grab one and use it if I’m forced to, but mostly it just sits there, bugging me. In my heart I know I should sort through it all and be a grown up, but I resist. God only knows what I’d find lurking in that sack if I ever did just embrace it all, but I know for sure there’s some pesky stuff like forgiveness, compromise, and concession. The biggest one, the trait I shove to the side every time I’m in a hurry and promising to be more mature next time, is resilience.

I think of resilience as being able to pick myself up and move on without a lot of fuss, no matter what has happened. Webster's goes one step further, calling it “the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress.” That one brings to mind a great couch cushion that returns to its normal self after I get up from a long session of eating popcorn and watching bad television. And it’s that meaning of the word that I long to adopt in my own life, but struggle with the most. What I wouldn't give to already be a person who can take a big defeat and then just nimbly pull myself back together.

As I get older and feel the almost daily sense of life racing by, I can’t help but believe that going with the flow is more important—and more interesting—than ever.

I want to make it clear that I’m not talking about growing accustomed to Donald Trump being president and giving him a chance to make America great again. I probably won’t ever be that much of a grown-up. It’s more about reacting however I’m going to react to the events that occur in my personal orbit and then being able to “recover” from them—bounce back, return to my regular size and shape.

Those reading this list of behaviors I struggle with can probably see this for themselves, but what’s tough for me is what they represent. In my least admirable state, when I’m feeling hurt or mad or scared, the idea of forgiving, compromising, conceding or, god forbid, getting over it, all feel like the same thing—giving in. It means I can’t replay the scene 14 times in my head or in mean conversations with my friends. I can’t use it as an excuse for future bad behavior, and I usually have to admit that I might have been—ever so slightly, mind you—wrong.

Resilience is the hardest. For me to be truly, gracefully, wholeheartedly resilient usually means that I have to look at what happened, accept it, and believe that I can still make peace with the world. It might not be exactly what I need and want, but I usually discover, after much angst and torturing those around me, that I can survive whatever happens. It's just not very fun getting there.

In other words, let’s say that Jodi and I have a plan involving other people, which we frequently do. These could be her people or my people; it matters not. Because she is the optimist and I am the cynic, you can see where this might go. If I’m tired or just the tiniest bit grumpy, I’m going to voice my concern that this event will not go exactly as I need it to because Person A is “always ________________.” Just fill in the blank, imagining something really annoying. Depending upon the friend or family member, I go right to whatever could happen that will probably force me to be a resilient grown-up and go with the flow. Jodi, naturally, tries to be supportive, but I can practically hear her eyes rolling.

When the awkward, hard, irksome thing occurs just as I feared it would, Jodi is actually able to adjust, while I’m frequently replaying the scene days later, still harrumphing around about how bad it was for me. This is the opposite of resilience. This is not bouncing back and returning to my normal shape. And here’s my fear: if I don’t practice this emotional flexibility with some seriousness very soon, it will slip through my fingers. At 65, I can imagine it getting easier and easier to justify my bad behavior and my unwillingness to trade my brattiness for more mature and elegant responses.

So I’m adding resilience to my list of things I want to focus on in this next year. I want to at least grow comfortable enough with it that I don’t have to get down on my hands and knees and paw through that sack under the bed every time I need it. In the deepest part of me I know that I will feel better if I can learn to maintain a sense of myself when things don’t go exactly as I want them to. A year from now, I'd be proud to know that I let go more often and more freely than I gripped tightly. As I get older and feel the almost daily sense of life racing by, I can’t help but believe that going with the flow is more important—and more interesting—than ever.