by eli soto
I keep a leather bound journal that I intend to fill with wisdom I want to pass to my son. When he is 18, this will be a multi-year gift that I hope he takes with him on his own journey through life. Hopefully, in the time between now and then I can plant the seeds of these truths into his heart & mind and water them often.
Son, I want to talk to you about resilience. One of the things that you’ll learn growing up is that, unfortunately, life isn’t fair. I don’t know why the world doesn’t make sense sometimes. Maybe it’s karma, or perhaps it’s the manifestation of one’s outlook – or maybe both. I really don’t know. Some people seem destined to have mostly cloudy days with a slight chance of WTF, while others can do anything they want and life is all beer and skittles. I’m not sure I have the answer here. But what I can teach you is how to muster your inner strength to stand up again on your own two feet.
When I was your age (here we go – #dadstories), I was just being put under remission from my four year fight with leukemia. It’s interesting to go through something so heavy as a child. While I don’t have a close relationship with my mother, she did help me get through it. Every time I would ask her what was wrong with me, she would reply, “Nothing”. Nothing was wrong with me? “And if anybody should ask, you tell them that you are perfectly OK.” You can imagine the confusion of a little boy following his mom‘s orders while at the same time living at the hospital, getting spinal taps and bone marrow biopsies. But as children we are hardwired to believe our parents. So I believed as much as I could that nothing was wrong with me. And deep down, I somehow felt that everything was gonna be alright. Intrinsically, I knew I could keep going… So I did. Lesson #1 – you will do whatever you believe you can do. Take a positive belief and bury it like you would a plant deep down inside your heart – water it every day with the faith that you can keep going.
Somebody always has it worse. When I’ve been hit with some of the more serious stuff in life, I’ve often felt like others are more concerned about me than I am. People handle stress differently. This is the importance of resilience. Some people completely shut down during a crisis. Life events can be devastating and severely crippling. However, because I know there are others that are dealing with much more than I am, I choose to keep pushing forward. Maybe that’s why I don’t like asking for help. Or maybe it’s just stubborn pride. Either way I don’t like burdening others when I know I can do it myself. My belief is that unless you are completely incapable and without the means then you should at least put forth the effort. I used to be really upset about growing up poor. Then one day in South America I heard of a homeless parent boiling water and putting strips of paper into the water so they would have something to fill their child’s belly. I grew up rich compared to that kid. That was the end of my complaining. Lesson #2 – Anytime you feel like shutting down and not doing anything to help yourself through a crisis, realize that there are other people that have it far worse off than you.
The answers can be found on the other side of crisis – When you get hit by a storm, it’s natural to be inclined to have a pity party. And you know what? That’s OK. At least for a time. Allow yourself to have a chance to experience the pain and feel your way through it. If it’s pain from a life lesson, then the answers of the lesson are on the other side of the pain. Once you understand the lesson, let go of the past so you can move on. Otherwise you’ll be stuck in time while your life passes you by. So don’t ignore the pain, but rather take courage and walk straight into it knowing that there is something specifically for you on the other side. Lesson #3 – painful lessons hurt so that they won’t be forgotten. And if they are, you will repeat it. Dad was a glutton for pain…be smarter than me son.
Accept help from others. Sometimes we get struck just hard enough to where we can’t pick ourselves up. The blow took us down too hard. During this time it’s OK to call out an SOS. And in this moment of need you will quickly discover that people will come to your rescue. I promise you will be surprised by the outpouring of help from friends, family, and even strangers. When they stretch out an open hand, reach for it son. I once read that there are three types of people during a crisis: Those who put you in crisis, those who abandoned you during crisis, and those that were there to help you and pull you out. Remember these people. Never forget that they were there for you when you needed support. Keep it as a debt of gratitude inside your heart, one which you express often. When people help in a time of need, you must keep the flow of positive energy flowing outward. You can either pay them back if they have a need, or pay it forward to someone else who does. That chain of goodness must not be broken by your fall. Lesson #4 – accept help from others when you need it the most, be grateful for their support, and use your regained strength to help others.
Show compassion to others who are struggling. Consciously do your best to avoid a useless platitude when somebody is treading water. Instead, help them put one foot in front of the other, even if it’s only for a few steps. Because in those moments they may be walking near the edge of an invisible cliff, and you may be the only one nearby to help them walk back from it. And for God sake, remember that everyone is going through a silent battle, so please be kind every chance you get. Your words have power to save somebody standing on that edge, or to push them off. Lesson #5 – By truly putting yourself into someone else’s shoes you will find there’s more strength inside yourself to help others than you thought possible. Helping others will bring strength to your own struggles because at one point you taught someone how to get out of something similar.
Intelligence will save your ass. If you were ever worried about being a nerd, don’t be. Whether it’s book smart or street smart, you will need intelligence to pull you through the rough times. Never stop learning. Absorb information like a sponge. One day when you are at a loss, you will need to be clever enough to know how to make it all back. Lesson #6 – Knowledge is power, and the powerful stand on their feet.
Listen to your body. We all have our physical limitations. Others may think you have reached yours and will tell you to take it easy. However only you know what your body is telling you. If you need the rest, then take it! You’re not being lazy, you’re giving your body exactly what it needs. Make sure you are rested, that you drink plenty of water, get healthy nutrition, and exercise. You can’t provide shade for others if you’re not taking care of yourself. A strong body will come in handy if you’re knocked down. You will recover faster the healthier you are before any crisis. And during a crisis, exercise can be a good stress reliever. Lesson #7 – a strong body will help you recover faster.
We’re all time travelers son, moving forward together as we experience joy, lessons, and sorrow. At the time that I write this, I’m dealing with cancer. For most of your life, it’s been growing inside of me. It’s a type of cancer that has the ability to influence my thoughts and behavior as well as many other physical functions. It’s very rare to develop, and even more rare for it to spread. However, this is my reality right now. I had three surgeries this last month, one of them was to remove it. Unfortunately, the physician missed the fact that it had spread. He was supposed to be the best of the best. However, even the best are human. I have one more complicated surgery in the near future. That’s OK, because I’m saving anything left in my gas tank to make it back to you. Every last drop I have will be used to open my eyes after surgery so that I may see you again. We’ll meet that day head on with the faith and determination that there will be many more days to share together.
So what’s my secret recipe for resilience? You will soon discover that people do whatever it is that’s meaningful to them. We all have drivers in life that navigate us to places that are important to us. What’s mine? It’s the happiness of love…the idea of it…the hope for it…the knowing that one day everything will fall into place and all of this will have happened for a reason. It’s tough right now. And sadly I’ve been through worse. But I have no intention finishing my story with a sad ending. So yes, love is the carrot that keeps me moving forward. And since I’m human, fear is the obstacle that sometimes gets in the way. But since I’ve been alive more days than I’ve been dead, I would say that love ultimately wins the zero sum game we play called life. So my last and final lesson on resilience is to make love your guide through the choppy waters. Like a lighthouse in the distance guiding you through the storm. That’s where you will find me son – holding a candle for you hoping that you let love guide you home.
I love you,