Saturday, April 25, 2015

Resilience Postscript

I wrote last week about resilience, describing how, in the midst of disaster and disappointment, the key move is to remain open to the serendipitous opportunities which could inevitably turn the tide, rather than wallow single-mindedly in whatever just happened.

I can imagine some readers nodding in agreement with this sensible advice, while others frown at the needlessly big deal being made over such an obvious bit of logic. Both reactions would miss the full brunt of what is a radical proposal.

While the suggestion might seem reasonable (or even mundane) in the face of minor foibles and letdowns, it becomes much more counterintuitive (and much more useful) in higher-stakes situations, where one feels much more compelled to cling to the drama rather than embrace tide-turning serendipity. I noted recently that "character" is measured by the rate at which one discards ones values as stakes rise. This is an example of that. It's a "stakes" thing. It applies come what may, and no matter how many times your life has been smashed. It applies even after a cancer diagnosis. Even after the death of a loved one. Even after an amputation. Are you still calmly nodding (or shrugging)? :)

The more convinced you are that life as you know it has forever come to an end, the more necessary it is to steer into the skid by acknowledging that unfamiliar life is full of opportunity.

I used to view the ending of Million Dollar Baby [warning: spoiler ahead]...

...(where a talented woman boxer becomes paralyzed, and begs to be killed) exactly as the filmmakers intended me to view it: as a tragedy due to the loss of her reason to continue to live. But I've come to view it as an entirely different sort of tragedy.

A friend recently went through a year of dialysis (the debilitating and extremely time-consuming process of compensating for malfunctioning kidneys). That was bad enough, but then his worst fear came to pass: he was told he'd need a transplant, via risky and highly invasive surgery followed by many weeks of recuperation. He went through all this horrific hardship, after months wrecked with worry, and when he emerged from it all, he blinked his eyes and looked around, and realized it had all just been...stuff! Very soon, though, he began worrying about kidney rejection. Now that would be truly horrific! And so the cycle recurs (he's still fine, by the way).

One can make disaster the first step toward turnaround, or one can make turnaround the first step toward disaster (noting that unexpected turnarounds are far more common than confirmation of one's worries). The irony is that it's completely a matter of free choice - like choosing to steer (effectively) into a skid or to steer (fruitlessly) out of one.

Here's another way of expressing it all, thanks to an Alec Baldwin one-liner which boils all my rambling down to three magical words.


oddlyme said...

Ah, see, you can actually boil it down into TWO words, not three, without Alec Baldwin.

"Sh-T happens."

Sadly, it does. Often.

Friends and family and love (and food) help you move through it. You can triumph! But it does happen.

One of my dearest friends got horrific bladder cancer and many of her lower organs had to be taken out, and rebuilt (and thank goodness they could!)

She said "Why did this happen to me!?" And her husband calmly said "Well, look at the percentages. It has to happen to SOMEONE."

And while he may have been annoying to her at the time, he was indeed right : )

And thankfully she is now grand.

Jim Leff said...

"boil it down into TWO words: "Sh-T happens. Sadly, it does. Often"

No, not "often". Constantly. So the key - the only key - is to learn not to deem it "shit" in the first place.

While things happen as they unavoidably happen, one's perspective is entirely voluntary. And the "Oh, shit" perspective ( is no solution; the princess will find smaller and smaller mattress peas with which to vex herself.

I'd suggest finding another view - perhaps the one I've frequently proposed, including in this posting which moved you to comment.

Shit-deeming leaves you living in Shit World, and why would anyone want to live in such a place? To yearn for a perch without disaster or disappointment, and to measure present circumstance against that ideal is folly . If you require a certain result for your world not to feel like shit, life will be a long, shitty slog. (

There's no "triumph". Just the invitation to immerse in infinite permutations of experience, some painful and some pleasurable, given that any world with feelings must contain all extremes (including cancer). You chose to be here. You shouldn't go in the movie house if you don't want to laugh AND cry.

You're responding to the latest of a long string of postings in which I've tried to offer a shifted perspective, and you appear to have concluded that I'm mirroring your stoic perspective, but that's not it. Since this posting seemed not to have struck home, perhaps try this very different one:

oddlyme said...

Jeff - my apologies. I will try to read more completely and not post so late at night! I believe I posted a misstep. Again, tired and sorry. Feel free to pull that post. And this, if you like : )

However I do need to say that I do not believe I shit deem nor do I think I live in a shit world.

True, I am not evolved enough to enjoy all of life, the ups and downs without some reaction.

But I am evolved enough to enjoy the moment, appreciate what I have, laugh at my follies, love my fellow humans and try to do more good than harm.

Not perfect but not bad.

Jim Leff said...

Not bad indeed!

And there's no need to apologize! You were speaking for most of humanity! Most people would describe your feeling on this as perfectly normal - or even healthier than normal ("normal", so far as I can determine, is to exist within an unbroken cloud of grimness). So, listen, *I'M* the weirdo here! Don't forget that! :)

As for shit deeming (love the phrase!), my finding is that if you start dividing life into shit and not-shit, there's no end to it. Shit deemers start out hopeful - figuring they're simply trying to work toward the good stuff. But part of shit-deeming is to shut down ones relishing of It All during shit moments, and to only feel fully alive during non-shit moments. Which is 1. silly, and 2. incredibly expansive (and contagious!).

We can accept the logic of this amid minor tribulation. Real problems (like cancer) feel much more resistent. But the point of being challenged with stuff like cancer is to open your heart despite of the duress. It's a choice. It's not even a hard choice. We just get stuck in the drama.

Here's a poem I once wrote:

The reed,
unendingly assaulted by violent wind,
never suffers.

It never ocurred to the reed
that the wind was a separate, external thing.

Insofar as the reed thinks at all,
it thinks it's dancing.

I am not evolved enough to enjoy all of life, the ups and downs without some reaction.

Hey, reaction's fine! Who wants to be an inhuman automaton? But while you can't iron out a crease, you can iron in a converse crease ( That's what I frequently advocate for here (repeating a link:

But that's my kookie stuff. I certainly don't expect anyone to agree, or follow the same path, or, even, really, read along! So thanks for entertaining my kookiness, and please don't feel obliged to see things my way!

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