I bet there are all kinds of scientific studies out there that sing the praises of resilience, at the ability to look upon each new unexpected twist in life as something positive, as an opportunity, an adventure.
I’m too lazy to look them up, but in my heart I know what they say is true. A person is happier if she can face the bumps in the road with an upbeat attitude. Turn lemons into lemonade. Turn that smile upside down.
But the fact is, a good number of us don’t like change, including myself, even if we know it opens up the potential for unimagined, and sometimes unwanted, personal growth. Change is a certainty, whether we like it or not. Control is an illusion.
I also know there are lots of great quotes from really smart and prolific thinkers and writers out there that deal with this subject. I’m too lazy to look up those too, but I’ve come across them from time to time.
Below is a quote that a very close friend shared with me about a year ago, when I was about as low as I could get because of unwanted change, and not feeling very resilient:
“When you start to crack open, don’t waste a moment gathering your old self up into something like you knew before. Let your new self splash like sunlight into every dark place and laugh and cry and make sounds you never made and thank all that is holy for the gift, because now you have no choice but to let all your love spill out into the world.” – Brian Andreas
Easier said than done, Brian.
This past Memorial Day I took the kiddos to Raven Run Nature Sanctuary, a 734-acre park about 15 minutes from our house that has one magnificently majestic overlook of the Kentucky River. It was a perfect late spring day and the only plan we had was to explore the trails. We saw deer and wild turkey. We saw wildflowers and waterfalls. We saw tons of butterflies! We put our hands in the cold water of the creek. We saw rocks (fossils!), tracks in the mud (bears!), and a fair amount of other humans, although not too many to crowd out our enjoyment of the day’s nature.
My daughter sketched rock walls. My son asked me repeatedly when he got to eat the Cheetos we’d packed in his lunch. Both of them tried to fib about the number of items they’d found on their scavenger hunt checklists. No, son, you haven’t seen a bobcat. It’s 1:00 o’clock in the afternoon.
We chatted and I pointed out the big, gnarly tree trunks for which I’ve lately developed a fascination. We crossed bridges and took funny pictures by the “Danger: Cliffs Ahead” sign. We kept our eyes open for the dreaded Emerald Ash Borer and the parasitic wasps (yikes!) that hunt their larvae.
It was a good day. We arrived at the Kentucky River overlook, marveled at that, and had our picnic. Just the three of us, on top of the palisades, surrounded by ancient rocks and really old trees. My daughter was happy to “finally” see the overlook. My son was happy to “finally” get to eat his ham sandwich and Cheetos. And even though we were “finally” achieving their goals for the day, there had been none of the everyday bickering and fighting that is a natural occurrence between siblings. We were all relaxed and enjoying each other’s company.
Our hike back from the overlook took us through one of the meadow paths. Due to some trail maintenance to improve muddy conditions, we had to take a detour up one of the steeper (not very steep) paths. This change in plan drew a few complaints that the path was too hard, too sunny, and too rocky. I wasn’t ready for the real world yet, so I pointed out different plants and flowers and bugs to engage the tiring kiddos in exploring their new surroundings.
This was working fairly well (maybe), and then a brownish butterfly with spots started fluttering around my daughter. She was startled at first the way this insect darted around her, grazing her arm, flying behind her only to pop up again right in front of her face. She’d smile and giggle and remind me how totally in love I am with her big brown eyes and her laugh.
The butterfly landed on her arm and stayed there for several minutes while we all marveled at it (nature!). My son came in for a closer look, in awe of his big sister as is frequently the case. The little creature didn’t seem to mind how close these three giant humans were to its tiny delicate body.
While we observed it and discussed its coloring and behavior, it flew off my daughter’s arm, flitted around and between all three of us before landing on my daughter’s arm again and then her head. Each time it changed direction or chose to perch on my daughter, another round of amazed giggles would escape my children.
Eventually the butterfly flew away toward new adventures and we continued climbing our own path. In a not very subtle way, I espoused to the children how lucky we were that we’d been detoured along our journey because surely if we’d hiked the other trail, we wouldn’t have just experienced the amazing awesomeness that was that little butterfly finding a friend in my daughter.
See! Good and unexpected things can happen when events beyond our control force us to change our plans. See, kiddos? See, Mama?
As we got further up the trail and came into a grassy meadow filled with wildflowers and bugs and butterflies, my girl found a butterfly resting on a rock (an Eastern Comma maybe?). A daisy was on the ground beside the butterfly (I swear we didn’t pick it), so my daughter picked it up and tried to coax the butterfly onto the daisy. It flew to her immediately, content to take her sweet offering. She got the butterfly to land on her daisy four times, and just like with the earlier butterfly, every time it chose to fly close to her, she giggled and laughed in appreciation of the awesomeness of the moment. And there it was, on the daisy and surrounded by humans, content to just be.
That’s what we were all doing that day, just being. Being present with whatever presented itself to us, acknowledging the possibilities of each new moment, excited to see what happened.
Granted, it’s easier to be open to the unexpected when you are in the glorious and peaceful woods, a place where you are actively focused on the knock knock of the woodpecker or listening to the powerful yet soothing sound of the waterfall. Nature has the sublime power to lure us out of our controlled to-do list world where we aren’t thinking about the bills we have to pay or how dirty our house is or the jolting changes inflicted upon us by the rest of the world. In the woods, we just are. And that’s OK.
Our hike that day was good for my anxious mind and the one my daughter inherited from me. We are already planning (ha!) our next adventure into the woods, Cheetos in hand.
I have this poem, along with the quote by Brian Andreas, hanging on my desk at work, in the hopes eventually I won’t have to constantly remind myself to just be.
The Peace of Wild Things-Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
and fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds,
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.