elizabeth edwards, may she r.i.p., wrote the book on resilience, literally, and well she might. if i were to even presume to write on the topic, i would have to defer to her.

she sadly earned her credentials through one excruciating experience after another, losing the closest people in her life to war, disease, untimely death, and betrayal, and finally losing her battle with cancer as a grand finale. yet she learned and articulated movingly the extremely difficult lesson of resilience in the face of despair. one day you wake up and your whole romanticized expectation of life is shattered forever. no way to have avoided it or to do a retake. your son is dead, through no fault of anyone or anything. your strong, vital father is paralyzed by a massive stroke. your husband with whom you imagined growing old has abandoned you. and as if to mock you in your anguish, cancer moves in to take their place and eventually claims your life. and those are just the highlights.

you can either give in to grief and despair, live in the past, or you can navigate the tougher road of redefining life as you once knew it, and starting over with the new, harsher reality. acceptance of the injustice and pointlessness of it all may never come; you just keep on with the process. you can exist in bitter resentment, or you can learn to look at each catastrophic loss as a new point of reference to begin again from, reinventing yourself in the process. that was what elizabeth edwards believed in, and how she kept going.

in the face of her example, what can i say about my inconsequential losses? i can let myself be swallowed by resentment and regret at the minor inconveniences life has thrown at me, or i can start over with these conditions as my new parameters, and treat them as a springboard. this doesn’t have to entail throwing oneself obsessively into volunteer work or becoming a martyr for a cause. it can be as ordinary as letting the old chapter go, and starting a new one. note i didn’t say ‘simple’. it may be one of the most difficult attitude transitions for humans to make. it’s not big and heroic, and it doesn’t magically make the losses go away. it’s a counter-intuitive, relentless process of letting go of grudges, acknowledging the basic unfairness of life, and taking on the new identity conferred upon you. and then somehow moving forward with the new game plan, and not relapsing into self-pity.

there’s only one way to find out if you have resilience. you can’t preview or rehearse it ahead. only when repeated onslaughts of reality leave you bent but not broken, betrayed but not bitter, devastated but not dead, will you know. you wake up from the nightmare, and you’re still in it, but somehow you learn to navigate the surreal landscape and live with the new reality. looking back with regret and longing is the killer. your familiar landmarks are gone, and you have to start over from scratch. each time. elizabeth edwards found this out the only way one can. her death and life are an eloquent testimony to resilience. i hope i can learn the technique. one bend at a time.

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