Choosing Resilience Under Unfortunate Circumstance
On a Sunday afternoon in January, I got the call from my husband who had been skiing with our youngest two kids.
“Aaron crashed,” my husband said. “Come quickly. I don’t know how bad it is.”
I sped to the ski area. By the time I arrived Aaron had been discharged from first-aid and was propped up in the passenger seat of my husband’s car. As his Dad carefully removed his ski boots and slid on his winter boots, he said, “It’s his right shoulder.”
Aaron sat, tears running down his face, right arm in a gauze sling, with a bag of ice perched on his shoulder. I read his face trying to parse the percentage of pain, sadness, frustration, and disappointment. With athletes, it can be difficult to tell. To sustain an injury just as the ski racing season is revving up is akin to preparing for months in the lead role of the spring play and coming down with flu the weekend of the performance. Months of work and now… this?
“Okay, Mary and I will meet you at the ER. We’ll get the rest of his stuff gathered.”
They sped off, kicking slush and mud up behind them. My mind chatter went into overdrive. (Why don't they warn us about what if feels like when your kid gets hurt?) How bad is it? How much will it hurt on the way to the ER? What does this mean for the race season? Can he still make it to States? Will he be even eligible? All he has talked about for eight months is making it to States.
The worry seized the muscles in my neck. “Just stop,” I said to myself. This line of thinking; of buying into Aaron’s season being a wash, and thinking about how unfair it all is. Really? Was it really going to go anywhere good?
I had a choice to make. To continue to swirl downward in negative emotions and what if’s and could have been's. Or, go with acceptance of what IS first and the quiet space to pry open the good.
That week I had just been listing to Mel Robbins book, The 5 Second Rule, and I could hear her voice, “Something’s gonna go down.” Yes, something’s going to go down—and that day, Aaron went down. Shoulder first. In the terrain park. On a day his coach had designated a rest day.
Mary and I parked and found the almost- hidden ER entrance on the back side of the rural hospital. I considered what to say. He’s 13. He’s been talking about making States since last summer. What can I say? I find his ER cubicle and I take a deep breath.
Four short months ago, I dropped off a boy who was three inches shorter in so many ways. He looks up, leaning tenderly to his left side, his face etched with pain under a mop of unkempt and overgrown hair and wore a small sweet smile. I lean over and give him a kiss on his forehead. I look at him, really look at him, and I say this: “No matter how this turns out, we couldn’t be prouder of you. You applied and were accepted to the school of your choice. You moved into a dorm as a 13-year old eighth grader four hours from home and made new friends. You’ve got good grades. Your skiing and attitude have improved by leaps and bounds. You’ve grown three entire inches and are strong. And, you know what else? You have the best posture of everyone in the family, now. You are thriving. No matter what happens with the rest of the ski season, you’ve accomplished so much already. We are proud of you. And, I know you’ll get through this.”
Aaron gave me "that look" mixed with appreciation and un-comfortableness; the one that says, Okay, this is a little too serious, and you can stop now… but I’m glad you said it.
Every day we choose. Negative or positive. Sometimes consciously, more often mindlessly.
And by choosing negatively we stay stuck. Pay attention, because the negative musings are there. Every time we choose to entertain a judgmental, unsavory, gossipy, victim-y thought, we build that cage that keeps us from being our truest, greatest self. And, we also hold back those around us, especially our children.
It’s our approach—our courage to not react negatively, but to find the lightest and the truest path forward that defines our capacity for resilience. And in our world, where there are problems and sadness and illness and violence, each of us has a responsibility to choose joy and love as we are able. Because as Mel Robbins reminds us: Something’s gonna go down.
Generally, it’s more like more than just one something. It’s a whole lot of somethings.That is the stuff of life. The more we use those black and white labels of good and bad, fair and unfair, the more often we find ourselves swirling in the negative. And, it’s how we help our children frame the little setbacks—yes, a broken clavicle is a little setback—that allows us to model how to handle the bigger challenges and disappointments that life inevitably serves up.
To better understand the hard science of resilience, we can look to an excerpt of an article from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:
“As proposed by the broaden-and-build theory, experiences of positive emotions during times of stress prompt individuals to pursue novel and creative thoughts and actions. Thus, through exploration and experimentation, in time they may be able to build an arsenal of effective coping resources that help buffer (psychologically and physiologically) against negative emotional life experiences” -- Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004*
That is, thinking positively literally opens up the mind and allows us to explore different ways to look at our current situation. And with practice, we can get better and better at finding the nuggets of positivity in the sea of stress. That way, each time a new obstacle gets in our way, we’ll be better able to jump over it, walk around it, or drill right through it.
Something’s gonna go down. And the next time something does, I’m going to do my flawed, emotional, very best to muster my courage, take a deep breath and choose my reaction.
P.S. Turns out 13-year old clavicles heal 50% faster than 18-year old clavicles. We cheered Aaron and the rest of his Under-14 SMS Alpine team on at States. @smsalpine
* Tugade, Michele M., and Barbara L. Fredrickson. “Resilient Individuals Use Positive Emotions to Bounce Back From Negative Emotional Experiences.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2004, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3132556/.
Published: March 2, 2018