The last few roller coaster months have shown me a gloomy view of my ability to handle difficult situations. I lack resilience, I’ve decided, and I set out to find how this important quality could be learned. Resilience is defined in the dictionary as the “ability to recover readily from illness, depression or adversity.” But resilience allows us to do more than just bounce back to a normal state of functioning: it enables us to use the experience to become stronger. Remember my blog about falling in the hole? I tend to fall in the same hole again and again, and worse, once inside, I sit there and bewail my bad luck rather than work to find the way out.
I was enthralled, therefore, when I encountered words of wisdom in the somewhat bizarre new Alon Hilu novel, As Far As It Gets. The novel tells the story of an uncle and a nephew, Michael and Nadav. Michael inherits $70,000 and leaves Israel to travel around the world, spending the money on giving other people joy. Almost on the same day as his uncle leaves, Nadav enlists in the IDF and is having a hard time fitting in. In one of his letters to Nadav, Michael attempts to cheer him up: “You have freedom, true freedom which is not just another truth but the ultimate truth for all humanity, the freedom to awaken in you — always, in every situation, even in the midst of despair, sorrow and anger, and despite all the pain and suffering you endure — good thoughts and wonderful feelings like love! Hope! Mercy!” And in the next paragraph Michael continues: “Your strength is in your thoughts, in your imagination, and they are with you wherever you go.”
Thoughts, Michael implies, are the source of resilience! They are the rope for escaping the hole! Finding that optimistic, grateful thread of thoughts is the way out of wallowing in a bad situation. I wonder if this is always true. Is the power of my thoughts the ultimate solution to falling in holes? And I think: how amazing! If I could master this golden key, I would no longer need to fear making mistakes, and I could choose to walk in any street I want, whether well-paved or not.
Of course, it is easier said than done. Sometimes when I feel sad I cannot find in myself the energy to create joy out of sorrow or thankfulness out of pain. I make the choice to stay in my trouble hole and roll around in the dirt of my self pity. And even though my first thought is one of disgust at choosing to thus waste my time, I could perhaps give myself permission to feel suffering, at least for a while. Because after that wallowing in the dirt at the bottom of the hole, the outside is so much more beautiful and grand. And remember, I now own the magic key for getting out.