When I was an elementary teacher, I heard about a summer class, something about making kids stronger. The course description said the class was taught by a guidance counselor who had helped students find their inner strength. I wondered if he would reveal the culmination of all wisdom in a little package or capsule of words and procedures that would push my students and,maybe, myself to never ending excellence? Was it worth taking 5 days from my summer vacation to go to the class that was over 60 miles away? And then I got the idea! I’d find a campground in The Adirondacks near the class and commute. I would be a student during the day and at night I would complete any assigned reading by the light of my gas lantern and a wood fire. I loved the idea.
The instructor seemed knowledgeable and passionate about what he did. He said he held a camp each year to teach kids resiliency. I asked how he got kids from disadvantaged families to attend. His answer startled me. He said he opened the group to everyone because many children from advantaged families lacked resiliency,also. Maybe I knew this. Movies, TV programs and sometimes real life were filled with rich kids who leaned on their family’s privilege to get through life.
He asked if we ever wondered how people who have gone through tough times made it. People like Winston Churchill, J.K Rowling, Thomas Edison, and Rosa Parks who went through bad childhoods, physical illness, or poverty. He then went on to explain the three factors for building resiliency; goals, role models, and an internal locus of control. I listened intently as he explained the third. With a internal locus of control, a person believes he or she can influence events and their outcomes. People without this character trait blame the world outside themselves for everything. They don’t take responsibly for their actions and live a life of learned helplessness.
I was thrilled to learn that I would be able to teach and help develop resiliency in my students. I could do this by telling them the stories of people who achieved success despite obstacles and roadblocks. I was instructed to help my students set reasonable goals broken down into manageable steps. The instructor told us that kids need to be encouraged to see mistakes and failures as lessons not reasons to give up. And that people, both young and old, must know that that they can’t always blame outside influences for what happens to them. It’s up to every individual to charter the direction of their lives.
I invited my neighbor, Leona, to join me on the last day of my camping/ study trip. She is 20 years older than me and a great friend and confident. She helped me through my divorce, listening to all the drama and allowing me to cry. I vividly remember one session in particular when we walked out on her porch and saw a double rainbow. It seemed to confirm of our resilience and the fact that even though we had both gone through a lot in our lives everything was going to be okay.
I am proud to say Leona is my role model. Through hard work and persistence she was the founder and the first director of the hospice in our rural county. Her kindness and wonderful insights have brought comfort to many people.
She was, also, a fun neighbor who was up for anything. When I told her about my Adirondack excursion she told me she would take the day off and join me. She arrived with an air mattress, sleeping bag, an a buckwheat pillow that her doctor recommended for her neck pain.
We made a campfire dinner and watched the flames die down as we listen to the lovely sounds of loons on the lake. We talked for a while in the darkness of the tent and then fell asleep. The next memory I have is the very loud sniffing sound from outside the tent near where Leona had placed her head.
“Uh, Oh,” I said.
“Bear!”, we both shouted.
That was enough to frightened the hairy intruder and we hear him lumber away.
“It’s your damn pillow, Leona,” I said. And we both started to laugh.
Leona and I have had challenges in our lives but I know there is a stubborn power in both of us. We know that nothing will ever stop us from living life to the fullest. This has made her a great leader and a valued contributor to her community. It’s made me a brave traveler. We are resilient.
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