Some gifts are easy to unwrap, like the ones from your favorite auntie who puts paper and bows only on the lid of a shirt box so you don’t have to rip and tear to get inside. Then there are the packages tied up in craft paper, string, more paper, several miles of tape, and, just when you think you’ve gotten to the gift but, another there’s smaller box wrapped in, like, barbed wire. Because nothing says “festive” like tetanus.
Resilience falls firmly in that latter category.
When in labor with my first kid about 20 years ago, I untied the first box’s string. Labor was a long one, as first labors can be. At one point, my doula (a saint among women) reminded me there was no future and no past when it comes to contractions. There is only the now. Focus only on the experience you are having this very second. And that advice worked until it very much didn’t.
Ten years later, that concept popped back into my head when training for my very first 5K. I was on the week when the running intervals were suddenly longer than the walking intervals. What seemed relatively easy — I mean, who can’t break into a 30-second sprint — required work and motivation. Run for a whole minute? That’s crazy talk. The way through is to only focus on the minute you are in, rather than what comes before or after. Run in the now.
You can string a series of “nows” together to cover 3.1 miles. Or 6.2 miles. Or 13.1.
Like most who’ve run a marathon, I’m going to tell you about running a marathon. In case you didn’t know, covering 26.2 on foot is hard. It’s hard if you run 6-minute miles or 15-minute miles or any pace in between. That said, the first 11 miles were a breeze. Every part of me felt great. New York City’s streets were lined with people who left their houses just to cheer me on. The day was bright and cool.
Then hours had passed. I realized I was not even halfway to the finish and still in stupid Brooklyn. I still had three whole boroughs to cross. All I could think about was the distance between me and not running anymore. And there is where despair lives, as you cast forward in time and imagine only suffering.
I’d like to say that I had a great epiphany and totally unwrapped my box full of resilience right there and then. When I saw it, the heavens parted, and I became a stronger, better, faster runner. But this gift doesn’t work like that.
Instead, I half-assed my way down Fifth Avenue, propelled forward by moments of living in the moment and hours of being too stubborn to quit.
The NYC marathon is where I made a running rule for myself: if you see a person in a banana suit, take a selfie with them.
Stubbornness might look like resilience. It’s definitely one of the boxes you open before you get to pure resilience. Stubbornness can get you out the door on a freezing cold morning once or twice. It can push you through life shocks and career set-backs. Stubbornness is a blunt tool like a hammer. You can get smash a nail through a two-by-four but can’t build a whole house with it. Resilience, however, is your general contractor.
In Outside magazine, Blair Braverman wrote a short piece about the Iditarod, a very long race with dogs through interior Alaska. While running and dog mushing are different challenges, any endurance sport is filled with joy and despair, which is why they all make such great (and transferable) metaphors for life. “After eating and resting, we didn’t keep going; we got up and started over. Our race ended and began a thousand times,” Braverman writes. That’s where resilience resides, in that ending and beginning. You figure out how to learn what you can from what came before, forget the rest, and start over. Lather, rinse, repeat. Resilience is a practice like yoga. Somedays are easy; some are rough. You are always starting again.
Somewhere over the last 20 years, likely in small fits and starts, I finally figured out how to stay lightly aware of the past and of the future, to not crush the defeats and disappoints in my fists, and to not fail to appreciate the joy. On a run, I focus on how it feels when my foot pushes off from the ground this very moment. The step that came before is gone; the next isn’t here yet. Curiosity about what the next moment holds powers my journey, no matter how long or how far I need to go.