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Updated: Dec 28, 2022

I was very young when I read Viktor Frankl’s “A Man’s Search for Meaning.” I have been always fascinated by the incredible resilience of the human spirit. The extraordinary ability to create meaning and regain a sense of worth and purpose after experiencing pain, trauma, violence, and dehumanization.

Image by Marc Pascual from Pixabay

Perhaps this underlying question of “how?” is what often moves me to pay attention to the manifestation of resilience in the people all around me.

Where does resilience come from? I wonder as the words of Father Greg Boyle, from his book "Tattoos on the Heart", continue to echo in my mind “Sometimes resilience arrives in the moment you discover your own unshakeable goodness.” This is part of his reflection after he tells the story of delivering the bad news of a sibling’s death to George, a young boy in juvenile hall who was going to be baptized shortly after he received his GED diploma as a way of commemorating both occasions. Father Boyle reflects on how George has been transformed in detention into a thoughtful young man aware of his gifts and talents. George cries as he receives the news of his brother’s death, but Father Boyle recognizes, amidst the pain, a new sense of being a resiliency that comes from recognizing the truth of who he is.

Resiliency comes, too, in the realization of our own abilities to overcome fear or to work our way through it. It comes from our ability to adapt and find new meaning or new purpose to our lives, especially after they took an unexpected turn. It comes from knowing that one is loved or from feeling supported in community.

Visiting a state prison for a weekend, I had a brief conversation with one of the inmates who shared with me that he was kept in solitary for years, maybe over a decade, but I can’t remember for sure. “How did you survive there?” I asked. He shook his head and said that he thought he was going to go crazy and then added “I prayed.” Resiliency comes,too, in the form of prayer.

The other form of resilience I’ve witnessed is the one that comes with hope for the future, sometimes not the future of the individual but that of the generations to come. It is a resilience that arises from a dream or vision of a better future, from a life that sees itself connected to others in very tangible ways. It’s the resilience that moves the trailblazers and the dreamers.

And then there’s the ordinary resilience that comes from experience and wisdom, from recognizing the ways in which we have overcome struggles in the past, from the lessons learned, from our ability to believe that we are capable of overcoming hard times again. Where do you draw your resilience from?

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