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  • March 17, 2024

THE JOY OF RESILIENCY: Sticking It Out When It All Hits the Fan

THE JOY OF RESILIENCY

This article is the first in a 2-part series, if you’re looking for part 2, it can be found here.

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IN MY 20s, when I first read “Life is Difficult”—M. Scott Peck’s opening line in his book, The Road Less Travelled—I had no idea what lay ahead on my road of life. Especially that one day, my wife Lori and I, and the whole community of Highland Park we are a part of, would be survivors of a mass shooting that left seven dead and scores injured.

Life had already had it’s very difficult moments and painful years.

Family-wise, constantly maneuvering to do the impossible act of simultaneously trying to save—as well as get the hell out of the way of — an out-of-control alcoholic mom. All while waiting for a fully-absent, unfaithful husband dad to show up to do something.

City-wise, surviving a twelve-year military dictatorship that stormed into my eight-year-old life with tanks busting through the gates of the government palace to overthrow a democratically elected president.

Subsequently, we saw the press censored, martial law dawn-to-dusk curfews imposed, private property expropriated, and the economy brought to its knees— leading to shortages of basic foodstuffs, inability to meet payrolls nationwide, chaos in the delivery of essential services—all sparking, via social and political resentments, a long, slow-burning fuse that as the dictatorship exhausted its power, exploded into a devouring rebellion by one of the most brutal terrorist movements in the world—the Shining Path.

It was a long, slow-burning fuse that as the dictatorship exhausted its power, it exploded into a devouring rebellion by one of the most brutal terrorist movements in the world—the Shining Path.

Little did we know that as they blew up polling stations in our first election in nearly fifteen years as the military relinquished power, twenty years later, there would be 70,000 Peruvians dead due to battles between the terrorist insurgents and the military as well as a result the massacres of innocents by both sides.

My sisters, my friends, my cousins, and I were just kids and then teens, and during this time, we were scampering everywhere, trying to make it through. One tumultuous day, when work strikes turned into deadly street clashes between the protestors and the military, we were ordered to quickly evacuate our classrooms and board school buses to be taken home, given rumors that some unknown forces were going to storm the school. We were instructed to lay down on the bus seats or the floor and not even think about looking out the window lest we got rained on by rocks or hit by collateral shrapnel.

I came to the US for college expecting respite. But along the way since then, people I loved experienced all forms of tragedy or impossible situations. On my American mom’s side, there were suicides by relatives and a cousin who was murdered; in my personal circles, there was a best friend who had been sexually abused as a child, divorces among our favorite couples, layoffs, and scary, wicked illnesses of loved ones.

And then there was the Fourth of July mass shooting in Highland Park—just one more in a never-ending epidemic of American-style assault-weapon massacres. Forevermore etched in my memory is the grisly tableaux of me running full speed to where the shooter had mowed down adults and children—looking at the bleeding dead and struggling-to-survive bodies—trying to figure out if one of them was my wife, Lori…

And then there is today. Where I’m still standing. I’m still thriving.

My salvation has been to find my way to resiliency.

RESILIENCY

Resilience is often imagined as the grand overcoming of herculean obstacles, and sometimes it is, such as in a response to a violent military coup or a mass shooting. But most times, it’s about grinding it out as life pelts you with the painful burrs of micro, daily setbacks.

It’s, however, about getting back up every time, no matter what, full of ganas—that wonderful Peruvian slang for “with everything you’ve got body, mind, and heart”—so we can carry on despite having been pummeled.

Resilience isn’t about having an impenetrable shield against life’s difficulties. Rather, it’s about defying the odds that the fear, tiredness, and despair that are natural reactions to trauma, in the end, will not keep us from moving forward.

Let’s peel back the layers of what it takes to be resilient together since you, too, have your own stories of setbacks, whether caused by the harm done to you by someone close to you, a stranger, or an institution.

Resiliency requires:

  • a never-surrender spirit
  • a maverick mindset
  • a loving community
  • a compassionate heart
  • a courageous optimism
  • a pragmatic discipline

[I will cover the first three in this Part 1 and the other three in Part 2 in a few days.]

A Never Surrender Spirit (propelled by ganas)

At its core, resilience requires both a reaching out for help as well as a digging deep into one’s life source energy.

We’ll return to reaching out in a moment. Let’s first focus on our inner response to whatever setback we are enduring because the never-surrender spirit of ganas fuels resiliency. Without it, nothing will propel us forward to meet the forces against us. Resiliency is the outcome of keeping keeping-on. And while it’s about survival, it’s also about thrival—how, even in the midst of the storm, maneuvering to come out stronger and more alive than before things hit the fan.

How to do this when we are feeling like mierda? Especially at the beginning of any crisis when we are the most vulnerable and feel the most unready due to the suddenness and implications of whatever has just happened. It starts with grasping that our vulnerability is not a weakness but a gateway to genuine strength. Resiliency exists not in the absence of struggle, but rather it’s forged when the searing heat of the trouble meets up against the fire of our will to persevere.

Resiliency exists not in the absence of struggle, but rather it’s forged when the searing heat of the trouble meets up against the fire of our will to persevere.

Ganas is our stance. It declares that no matter what, I’m not going anywhere.

Elizabeth Smart, kidnapped in Salt Lake City at fourteen and subjected to nine months of horrific abuse, wrote in her memoir, My Story: “I was not going to let this man crush my spirit.” She repeated this mantra even when she was living the worst of it. Fully vulnerable and trapped, seemingly as defenseless as any of us can imagine, she had something powerful within—a mindset of never surrendering. That something gave her the ability to survive then, and, afterward, to thrive.

A Maverick Mindset (being an imaginative escape artist)

In the fearful chaos of the dictatorship, as teens we still found ways to do what teens do—study, party, fall in love. Resiliency requires agility to ebb and flow through the disorder that does not have our best interests in mind.

So how did we keep our teen spirits up when the military junta imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew (referred to as toque de queda)? Rather than all staying isolated in each of our houses, we would set up de toque a toque parties, which got all of us in by 6 pm into someone’s house, and we would party all night till 6 a.m. when the curfew would lift. At times there would be a complete blackout due to insurgents knocking down a powerline. We were ready for that. After ninety seconds of pitch blackness and complete silence, cranked-up generators and blasting salsa dance music would fill the air with pockets of illumination dotting different city neighborhoods.

It’s one thing to be a maverick around the barriers others put around you, it’s another to address the ones you create yourself. In being agile and imaginative, we are bound to make mistakes. The attempted workaround backfires, and you lose the ground you had clawed back. When it comes to setbacks, the key is to own them—conduct a candid self-assessment, learn, and adapt. Resilience is not about avoiding failure but rather about being willing to take risks, learn from the mistakes, and try again … and again … and again.

It’s one thing to be a maverick around the barriers others put around you, it’s another to address the ones you create yourself. In being agile and imaginative, we are bound to make mistakes.

In dealing with my mom’s situation, I tried so many different creative ways to help her and our family. Every time, I learned about what didn’t work and eventually how, no matter how much I tried and cared, the issue was way bigger than my teenage and young adult self could handle without professional help. I learned a lot about myself and the issues through those mistakes, and learning from them increased my resilience, including, ironically, that resiliency also meant asking for help.

A Courageous Optimism (a f*** it stance)

Courageous optimism is not clueless. Rather, it’s an optimism that faces the grim with grit. When all the chips are down, it sees our dire situation not as what we don’t have but rather as brimming with the assets that we do have. It’s grounded by confidence that while we may not know the right answer yet, we will get to the best answer.

For the many of us who have had near-death experiences and other forms of trauma, it’s a f*** it stance that says that because we are still here, it means we know there is much we can still do to keep transforming the world and no one can stop us no matter who wants us to believe otherwise.

With this stance, courageous optimism does not wait until the right time; rather, it makes the right time happen.

Because an optimist says: Why not? Why not now? Why not us?

Developing resilience also involves a critical mindset shift: seeing the potential in the glass being half full, believing in the possibility of better days, and understanding that challenges are not dead ends but part of the journey through.

Back to our Shining Path days of terror, an image I will always carry with me is of a squad of bandanna-masked men who stopped and boarded the inter-province bus my friend and I were on as we were entering the Peruvian city of Ayacucho. It was a national strike day, and they were questioning the driver as to why he was working as a driver rather than striking. As they talked with him, they went up and down the aisles asking for documents. Right when they were about to get to us, the driver, in a non-threatening, disarming way, said to them, “I started this red-eye run last night. It’s only 6:30 in the morning. The national strike day starts at the beginning of the workday, 8 am. Let me drop off my passengers, and I will be done and ready to join the strike on time.” They conferred among themselves and let us through.

The bus driver had stared the Shining Path insurgents in the face with a courageous optimism that his explanation would work—and it did. He put the bus into gear and kept moving forward down into the city nestled in the Andean pampa.

Ever since, this moment of the bus calmly navigating down the incline into the town, with scores of masked men on the hillside aiming slingshots and rifles at our quietly steadfast moving vehicle, is what has inspired my traditional sign-off in my communications of ¡Adelante!, forward.

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End of Part 1.

Stay tuned for Part 2, detailing the last three guideposts on Resiliency: a compassionate heart, a courageous optimism, and a pragmatic discipline.

©2024 Andrés. T. Tapia

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