When I was a child I was forbidden to play Jacks.
It may seem harsh, but you see I had “fed” one to my baby brother Jimmy who did not realize we were playing house, not really eating breakfast. It got stuck in his throat, my father sprang to action, turning him upside down and shaking him until it fell out. And promptly forbade me from ever playing Jacks again. In fact, he was pretty clear that no single “jack” would ever be found in our house again.
But it is the rubber ball from the Jacks set that I think about as my metaphor for resiliency and my life. The only way we know if the ball will bounce and how high is to throw it at the ground, over and over again.
When I reflect back on my life and my growing resiliency I see it is because of the times I was thrown to the ground and not always sure I could bounce back up.
The years that brought me to my knees.
When I was 31 years old and a divorced mother with three children under the age of 10 and no full-time job. Divorcing with the asset of debt and living with my parents.
When I was 40 years old, with two more children and my eldest son was in a car accident that created a media storm that could be heard around the world–thank goodness social media was not yet a thing or our lives would have been unbearable. But that was not all. My 40-year-old brother-in-law dropped dead one night of a massive heart attack leaving behind my sister and her three devasted young girls and three weeks after that another loved one attempted suicide and was on life support for weeks.
That was preparation for the year I was 54 and my granddaughter was born two months early, rushed into her first major surgery, living in the NICU facing further surgery and was ultimately diagnosed with the life-shortening disease of Cystic Fibrosis. My second marriage was failing and another loved one was in the fight of his life in the court system. Every time the phone rang it was a life and death situation.
All this while I held down a 40 hour a week job and taught at night at a major university. I honestly believed that tension is what held my body together. That stress was my true skeletal system. Which of course is not true, stress is what leads to illness. My body kept breaking down with small problems like anemia and thyroid disease, and ultimately fibromyalgia.
Each of those years–and the ones in between that led to those crises–forged me into a stronger person. But they also led me to realize how short and precious life really is. It led me to an exploration of how I could take care of both my mind and body and begin to live a more authentic life. Of course, that took another five years of stress that included divorce, working 60-hour weeks at a job that was soul-crushing and other challenges along the way.
The in-between years were busy but beautiful. I was part of a team creating award-winning programs that changed the community we served. I was raising my five amazing children. I was establishing life long friendships. I learned to play again.
But when I was happy those around me were experiencing their years of devastation–cancer, suicide, and death from heart attack. Pain is part of life. Sometimes it is physical, sometimes it is spiritual–it is our hell on earth.
Not to be flippant here, but this is perfectly captured by Wesley in the Princess Bride.
“Life is pain Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
It is what we do as the immediate pain fades that forges us into stronger beings. How many Jacks can we pick up before we are thrown to the ground again? That’s how we win the game of life. One I was forbidden to play but got really good at anyway.