A man has back surgery and returns to work in just a week. We say that he “bounced back.” A college student has a bad semester, yet makes the Dean’s List the next. We say that she “bounced back.” A businesswoman has a bad quarter financially, but posts solid gains the next. We say she “bounced back.” These “bounce backs” are often attributed to hard work or good fortune or unique circumstances. We all love a good “bounce back” story. We value resilience and resilient people.
But what happens when the bounce back is delayed or perhaps never comes? After twenty weeks of some form of restriction due to the coronavirus, the bounce back has been delayed. Oh sure, the market has made a fairly healthy recovery. Amazon is busier than ever. Supermarkets are innovating, and all the while sales are soaring. Doctor’s offices are humming. A friend in the lumber business tells me he is busier than ever before. But the reality is, for a lot of people, there has been no bounce back, no recovery, no PPP relief.
Businesses have closed; some temporarily, others forever. Team sports have stopped for the most part, while fans still hold out hope for some kind of bounce back. Public schools, as well as colleges and universities, have plans A, B, and C in hopes that education and learning can happen in some meaningful way. While much of the world has flattened the curve, our American curve continues to climb. We were told that warm weather would help, but that seems a fanciful thought these days. The truth is no one knows when we “bounce back”.
Americans are a resilient people. We have endured multiple wars, previous pandemics, enslavement of others as a way of life, corruption in business and in government, disasters like Three Mile Island and Hurricane Katrina, and the terrorism of 9/11. Bouncing back is what we do. But for all of us, this thing has gotten old. We are tired of masks, of not hugging our grandchildren, of missing gathering for worship with church friends, of not being able to go to a concert, and of not being able to visit our favorite restaurant or coffee shop. This has led to loneliness, depression, eating too much, and a whole host of other unhealthy circumstances. So, as we face the lingering presence of Covid-19, and all of societies’ other undercurrents, where do we find the resilience to bounce back?
To answer that question, I turned to one of the most resilient people I have ever known, Becky Galli. Without going into too much detail, Becky was living the American dream, whatever that is. Life was really good. Today Becky has buried one child and has another with severe autism. Her other two kids are doing great! But Becky is divorced, alone and in a wheelchair, a condition brought on by a virus nearly twenty years ago. She wrote a book about it: Rethinking Possible: A Memoir of Resilience.
I have watched Becky cope with all of life’s up and downs, both up close and from a distance. I watched her dance in her wheelchair with college friends at her daughter’s wedding. I have watched her travel long distances with great difficulty and not a little advance planning. I have read her wonderfully written words of loss and hope, of questions and faith, and of despair and resilience. Whenever I think I’m having a bad day, I think about Becky and all the challenges she has faced and the heroic way she continues to “bounce back.” No, things will never be as they once were for Becky, but she is a remarkable woman who continues to live the very best in the wake of a lot of dashed hopes.
Reflecting on the Covid-19 crisis and the necessary isolation for people with health issues, the renewed attention to racial inequality in America, the political environment swirling around all of that, and the never-ending news about all three, Becky observed, “Listening to the news has become much more than an update on what is happening. It’s become a personal question of what more can I take?” She went on to note that many of us are saturated and “have absorbed so much that we are not sure we can take anymore.”
Then she read these words by psychologist Nick Wignall, who wrote, “You can’t be emotionally resilient if you’re living in denial.” This caused Becky to wonder about what reality she might be denying. She identified three realities:
- Life is uncertain, darkened by unthinkable acts and unpredictable responses that are shaped by skilled and unskilled editors of word and film.
- Life is not fair, never has been, but this long look back into our exclusionary ways and pervasive attitudes is particularly difficult to absorb and admit.
- Life is hard, filled with mistakes, wrong turns and flawed thinking. Our ability to communicate has been our friend and our foe when it comes to examining truth, making wise choices, and behaving well.
Becky said she felt better by writing all of that, and then Wignall reminded her of the hard part: “Looking for opportunity in the face of adversity isn’t some cheap slogan or vacuous mantra-it’s a vital psychological skill.” So where do we find opportunities to become resilient and to “bounce back” in the face of where we find ourselves in these days of uncertainty?
First, we can look within ourselves. What can we do that we could not or did not have time to do before coronavirus? Because a lot of us have more time on our hands right now. One friend built an awesome playground for his son. Another cleaned out his garage and attic and bragged about it. We have visited friends and sat in the driveway (masked and 6’ apart) just for conversation. A friend is giving away cinnamon bread. Another person calls someone they had not spoken to in years or writes a personal note to express a long-delayed gratitude. Friends gather for a game night on Zoom. There are many life-giving things we can do. Most of them will focus on other people. It requires intention on our part.
Second, we can look to see what we might receive from others. Two of my favorite singer/song-writers, Grace Potter and Slaid Cleaves, have been doing concerts from their homes on YouTube or FaceBook. That stack of books you intended to read will take you places you cannot go yourself. Streaming services, like Netflix and others, have broadened our entertainment options, if we are discerning in what we watch. My university has had several lectures and panels on vitally important subjects. Virtually every church has a sermon on line every week. I have listened or watched so many great ministers. They all inspire me and help lift my spirits.
Finally, and obviously, we turn to God. We dare not neglect our spiritual life. Prayer, Bible study and Zoom Sunday School classes all play a part in strengthening our faith.
All of us have been disoriented by the environment in which we currently find ourselves. But resilience is possible. May we all “bounce back” strongly.