This year has been difficult for me and so many I love (as you can see from my last post "The Difficult Gifts"), so it's not surprising that RESILIENT was the word that introduced itself for 2018 one morning in early December when I was showering.
Resilient seemed fitting, a continuation of my desire to remain open and graceful in the midst of life's challenges, most especially my mother-in-law’s illness and death in 2017, and the continual changing of our deadline to finish and sell our house—our main source of livelihood.
The resilience I seek to emulate isn’t just mine, it’s something I witnessed (and still witness) day in and day out as those I love coped (and continue to cope) with job loss and changes, moving, lack of housing, family strife, illness, death, and all the self-doubt and challenges to faith these circumstances stir up in us.
I participated in Abbey of the Arts’ free online “Give Me a Word 2018” mini-retreat and nothing rose to replace resilient, though I got clarity on the type of resilience calling to me. I’ve seen my share of resilient flooring at Home Depot, and I’m not interested in bouncing back unchanged. I’m intrigued by resilience in the way Psychology Today looks at it:
Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes. Psychologists have identified some of the factors that make someone resilient, among them a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback. Even after misfortune, resilient people are blessed with such an outlook that they are able to change course and soldier on.
Resilience seemed not only fitting but sufficient, until I awoke in my own bed on December 31st after a week of Christmas travel spent sleeping with my husband on a wiggly air mattress. My eyes flitted open and closed as I anticipated sunrise, looking to see if the skies would be clear enough for Mt. Rainier to be visible. I plumped my pillow and slumbered in the growing light, glancing out the window, every time I regained consciousness.
That’s when the word INTENTIONAL dawned in my brain as clear as the looming mountain. I would live 2018 with intention—who needed resilience?—and I’d get a day’s jump start. So as soon as I finished eating breakfast, I set about doing something in my skill set to help finish our home renovation: touch up painting.
In retrospect, I remember that my husband mentioned something about being unsure of paint sheen as we gathered brushes, rollers, and paint trays, but his words scudded by like a quick moving cloud in my eagerness to be intentionally productive. I painted some glitches on baseboards then tackled the entry walls, scuffed up from our recent floor tiling.
After lunch I returned to the entry to find swaths of shiny paint all over the walls. I’d used semi-gloss, and the walls clearly were not that sheen. The entire room would need to be repainted—maybe the entire main level of the house. And when I had that realization, I completely lost it.
Why had my husband set me up with the wrong paint? If he’d only warned me to paint one inconspicuous spot, I wouldn’t have gone wholesale on the walls (as if I’m not responsible for my own actions; as if he has to supervise everything I do). I sarcastically commented about throwing away time and money, and my husband sarcastically commented back that yes, that’s exactly what he loved to do.
I stomped to the bedroom, thrashed on the floor, huffed and puffed and cried until my anger was replaced with the heavy weight of sadness and shame. Intentional? Hardly! I hadn’t even paid attention to what my husband told me. I hadn’t asked questions, or made sure I understood. Resilient? Rolling on the floor wallowing in self-pity is only resilient if that’s the type of flooring you tantrum on.
When I skulked downstairs and tried to talk about it reasonably, my husband told me that someone—maybe me, maybe one of our crew, no one knew—mixed up our paint finishes during one of the many weeks he was out-of-town caring for his mother, and that in fact, we’d discovered it when I’d touched up the kitchen months ago, and the same thing had happened.
How had I completely forgotten? Probably because back then we were preoccupied, and rightly so, with love and loss, and everyone was simply doing the best they could for and by each other in the midst of a poignant and sacred season.
In helping my husband to care for his mother in her last months, I was intentional, and resilient. I know this about myself: I am better able to focus on the big picture and attend to the big things in life “that really matter.” Yet I know the small things of daily life, and how I respond to them, are great in their impact. It is the mosaic of such moments that comprises our lives creating the image we have of ourselves, and the impression we leave on others.
The great paint debacle of December 31st is simply one example (of too many, I’m afraid) of precisely why I need INTENTIONAL RESILIENCE as the words to guide my life this new year; and always. What words will shape you this year?
I am a writer who, in December 2011, fortified by a new MFA, empty nest, and changes in my husband's employment, relocated from my native California to Washington state to see what would unfold next.