REDEFINING RESILIENCE

By Valerie James Abbott

In mid-December 2020, my husband texted me a photo of some crocus coming up through decaying leaves in our backyard. It was followed by a piece of dry humor – something about Spring must be coming soon. I didn’t find his message funny. 

“The poor thing is confused,” I texted back – knowing that in just a few days awful weather would be headed our way, crushing the tender green sprout with ice and rain. 

Crocus are considered among the most anticipated flowers – symbolizing both joy and hope in many cultures. Their annual eagerness to bloom in late winter, even through light snow, and survive the chilly days of early spring, should have been a cheerful message to have received via text in 2020. But, it wasn’t. I wanted to march out the back door, through the mud, towards the spot where my husband had bent over for the perfect iPhone photograph, and scream at the ground. 

You are a fool! This warm day is just the calm before the storm! Stop fooling yourself and spreading good news – winter hasn’t even started yet! Do you have any idea what’s coming?! Who are you to show your face around here, getting everyone’s hopes up? 

STOP SHOWING OFF HOW RESILIENT YOU ARE!!!

One might say that our family has not been directly impacted by COVID-19 so far, but that isn’t really true. No, we haven’t been sick. No, we haven’t lost a loved one…or a neighbor…or a friend. Yet. We continue  to be selective in when and where we go out. Our faces are always covered. Our hands are always washed. Our bodies are always distanced. We work and attend school from home – in our slippers most of the time. We have learned to assume that anyone and everyone outside of our house could expose us to a virus that could kill us. We believe we could be asymptomatic carriers. Who, how and when we talk to people has changed – dramatically. Without realizing it – everything about us has been impacted by COVID-19 – including our resilience and how we define it. 

The Cambridge Dictionary defines resilience as: 

  • The ability to be happy, successful, etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened
  • Quickly returning to the usual shape after being bent, stretched, or pressed

Happy again? Returning to my usual shape? I beg to differ. I believe that a catastrophic, world-wide plague that has killed more than a million people worldwide in less than one year grants every human on the planet the right to define resilience for themselves…based on their own, deeply personal experience and vocabulary. 

Allow me to start us off. According to the new Valerie James Abbott dictionary (soon available on Amazon and retailers nationwide), resilience is now defined by our family as: 

  • The ability to survive this moment and, on a good day, face the next challenge

Sure – some people might include words like bounce-back, rebound, recover, smile, resume, or thrive. Not me. At least, not today. Today, my only goal is to survive and, maybe, face the next challenge ahead. While the novel coronavirus continues to park it’s butt in our community, this is how I am choosing to define resilience for myself and for my family. Surviving is enough. Getting from Point A to Point B is enough. Finishing half of something is enough. And, on some days, feeding my family Cheerios for dinner and getting a shower at the end of the day is enough. 

By this definition, we are all resilient. We are all amazing and doing our best – even when we’re not. Resilience is no longer based on happiness, joy, returning to, rising above or moving past but solely on putting one foot in front of the other – at whatever pace makes sense for you today. 

Valerie, center, with her two daughters.
*** Valerie James Abbott is a 1-3-6 Family Educator and Learning Community Coordinator for the Center for Family Involvement at VCU. In this dual role, Valerie works closely with parents of deaf and hard-of-hearing children and professionals to help reduce loss to follow up. A graduate of Hollins University and author, she lives in Henrico County with her husband and two daughters, one of whom is hard-of-hearing. 

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