One night a year ago, I sat with my wife in the emergency waiting room of a hospital. The lights were dim, and half her face was paralyzed. Tears flowed down her right cheek, from a right eye that wouldn’t close.
My insides were ice. We didn’t know what was wrong, and our worst fear was that she might have had a stroke.
I looked at the most amazing person I have known for the last nine years, suffering, and swore to myself that if she would only come out fine, I would do everything in my power to make her life a happy one. Including finally making a trip to New Zealand. It’d been a dream of hers for years, but we had kept putting it off because of the money, and because — well, because someday.
But that night, faced with the fear that we might lose our somedays, I decided that we would go. Damn the money. We were going.
It turned out that my wife had something called Bell’s Palsy, a condition that causes facial paralysis. In most cases, it’s not permanent, but it can take anywhere from two weeks to six months to recover. It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t a stroke. Three months later, she’d recovered control of her face, but full recovery took longer.
To my shame, I didn’t fulfill the promise I made to myself that night. She got better, I went back to living like we had forever, and we went on with life.
Early this year, she brought up New Zealand again. And I was reluctant, because it would be expensive. I procrastinated and delayed, but she insisted, and I finally booked our tickets.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was learning a valuable lesson about resilience. I was hunkering down, defending our security by saving our money. And while that’s important, resilience is more than just gritting your teeth and staying where you are.
Resilience is also about expanding. While I was reacting to problems, my wife was reaching out. To become more. To flourish.
Some people live narrow lives. They have a routine that works … They feel comfortable, even happy, when the routine runs smoothly. Life for these people is best when it’s predictable and known … And then there are people who approach life as if it were an all-you-can-eat buffet … They find joy in reaching out to others and seeking new experiences. What’s their secret? Just as resilience is necessary to overcome negative life experiences, cope with stress, or recover from trauma, it is equally necessary for a life that is rich in meaning, deep in connections, and committed to the pursuit of learning and new experiences. Reivich, Shatte, The Resilience Factor
Why Resilience Isn’t Only about Strength
It’s been three weeks now since we returned from twelve days in New Zealand’s majestic countryside.
To say that our vacation didn’t cut a hole in our savings would be a lie. But after having done it, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. In reaching out, my wife brought the both of us into an experience that has changed us to the core.
Our world is different now. In the past it held metal skyscrapers, cement floors, and one night in a dim hospital hall. It now has a sunrise setting the peaks of mountains onto fire, open fields of gold where my wife sang to me on an afternoon, and early mornings waking up to birdsong, in each other’s arms.
Flourishing is a fact, not a feeling. We flourish when we grow and thrive. We flourish when we exercise our powers. We flourish when we become what we are capable of becoming. Eric Greitens, Resilience
We are more now. And I learned that resilience isn’t only about inner strength, it’s also about the power to amplify that strength; so we can not only be strong, but also flourish. To do that, we have to be willing to seek the things that nourish us. Whether it’s a good book, a conversation with a friend, or time away, we all deserve to reach out to the things that magnify our lives.
Seek out what magnifies your spirit. Patti Smith, in discussing William Blake and her creative influences, talks about writers and artists who magnified her spirit — it’s a beautiful phrase and a beautiful notion. Who are the people, ideas, and books that magnify your spirit? Find them, hold on to them, and visit them often. Use them not only as a remedy once spiritual malaise has already infected your vitality but as a vaccine administered while you are healthy to protect your radiance. Maria Popova, 9 Learnings from 9 Years of Brain Pickings
P.S. Special thanks to my wife for allowing me to share about this difficult time in her life.
Portrait of my wife by me. All rights reserved.