Resilience

My favorite picture from the Women’s March; Janice Posikoff photographed by Jody Rogac for Time Magazine

My favorite picture from the Women’s March; Janice Posikoff photographed by Jody Rogac for Time Magazine

Janice Posikoff  “I’m here representing the territory of my mother, Lillian Posnikoff, from Alert Bay, Canada, and her ancestors, the Kwakwaka ‘wakw people’. “Can’t you feel what we’re getting out of this march? It’s unity, it’s solidarity, it’s everything that we all wanted. It’s sending the clear message that absolutely, absolutely, he’s not the popular president, and we’re going to fight every inch of the way, every time it looks like corruption is happening or injustice is happening, all of it.”

It seems to me that The Women’s March, January 21, 2017, which as far as I know, originated as a protest of and resistance to the policies of the president who had been inaugurated the day before, blossomed into a world-wide celebration of and call heard round-the-world to resilience.

It doesn’t take resilience to resent. Resistance is possible to sustain but there is generally little joy in it. The Women’s March transformed resistance into something else—something like Pentecost. The participants of different races, religions, genders, political party affiliation came together as one voice—a voice that required no translation. And when the event had ended each went her or his own way to proclaim the “good news.”

In an open letter entitled “Thank you, Mr. Trump” which appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Princeton Assistant Professor, Christy Wampole, who attended the D. C. march, described the “joyful seriousness” of the event.

One of my clients said, of the gathering in Los Angeles that, “there was no room to march; it was more of a celebration.”

Another, who marched in Chicago, said the event seemed to be “held in the hands of God.”

And a third said, “We’re retrieving a dream.”

Professor Walpole’s letter (to the president) went on to say:

“I would argue that your presidency has already succeeded in uniting disparate groups who couldn’t quite find the cohesion they sought until now.

You have managed to unify people who support reproductive rights, voting rights and other civil liberties, Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, immigrants, feminism, disability rights, workers’ rights, and a host of other pro-people movements, effectively creating the conditions for a populist Left renaissance. As a progressive, I have to thank you for this.

You have successfully awoken Americans from their political apathy. This is an extraordinary accomplishment.”

On the other side of the continent, Muslim scholar and best-selling author, Reza Aslan echoed Professor Walpole. In an interview broadcast on Southern California public radio station KPCC, on January 31, Aslan said:

“I have never been so galvanized as by what I see as a sense of clarity from the left, from the center, from the right, who have a lot of different ideological disagreements with each other on a whole host of different things who have a sudden sense of clarity about the state of emergency we are living through right now. And that should actually encourage people; that should make people realize that now is the time to make our voices heard. Now is the time to define the country that we want to live in.”

 

******************

I know something about resilience.

I was diagnosed with “incurable but treatable” cancer in June of 1997. The news roused me from apathy and galvanized me. It served unmistakable notice that I didn’t have an infinite amount of time and I had better organize my priorities. My yardsticks were and continue to be passion and meaning.

My primary care doctor, Jim Blechman, told me that in his experience with patients over many years, he had come to believe that cancer is an invitation to change or die, and that some people are more afraid of change than death.

Without hesitation, I responded, “I’ll go with change.”

A few months later, I sought treatment at the Department for Complementary Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, Shadyside. The director of the clinic at the time was Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona, the author of Coyote Medicine. I reported to the office of this wily genius and healer for orientation. The first thing he said to me was, “You know, you’ve got to change or die.”

“So, I’ve been told.”

That was nearly 20 years ago. My life since then has been one of resilience: continuous adaptation and change.

**********************

The dais during the president’s inaugural speech was as somber as a doctor’s office in the first moments after a cancer diagnosis has been pronounced. The election on November revealed not just a divided nation but a nation riven by cancer.

It’s clear that, in the words of my doctors, our country must change or die.

Resilience, I’ve become convinced, is not born out of optimism but out of something much stronger, the grace of hope—a conviction that life—each life– has meaning and purpose.

Pope Francis was once asked by an interviewer if he was an optimist:

“I do not like to use the word optimism” he replied, “because that is about a psychological attitude; I like to use the word hope  . . .”  “See,” he continued, “Christian hope is not a ghost and it does not deceive. It is a theological virtue and therefore, ultimately, a gift from God that cannot be reduced to optimism, which is only human. God does not mislead hope; God cannot deny himself. God is all promise.”

Viva il Papa!

Additionally resilience requires something to live for and not just something to fight against. When I was first diagnosed with cancer, well-meaning friends and family members encouraged me with phrases like, “You can fight this!” or “You can beat this.” The problem is that I am not and never have been a warrior. I am, on the other hand, very good at improvising and shifting tactics as quickly as the cancer tries something new—it never tires of trying and I never get tired of playing.

Resilience is the capacity for spontaneous, adaptable, creative and both intuitive and contra-intuitive response rather than resistance or reaction to set-backs, unwelcome change, and plain bad news. Resilience gives us the grace to laugh and be playful even in the most improbable circumstances—a room full of chemotherapy patients, for instance.

All of these characteristics of resilience were on full display at all of the marches.

One of my mentors, David Goodstein, used to say that anything you do 100% is play and anything you do less than 100% is work.

Hope and serious play were 100% present at the Women’s Marches. Some of the signs the marchers carried were masterpieces of comic creativity—so much so that the Washington Post devoted an entire article to them: “Today’s Protest Signs Are Sharper, Meaner, Funnier—and Live on Long after the Rallies”.

newyorkercoverNo image more perfectly captures the march’s spirit of resilience  than artist Abigail Grace Swartz’s reimagining of Rosie the Riveter, the WWII feminist icon, which graces the cover of the February 6, 2017 New Yorker magazine.

This image also serves as a “get real,” or, if you prefer, “f**k you” response to the president’s dictum that “women dress like women.” This image must be made available for postcards; it is perfect to use for communications made to a majority of our elected representatives: You know the ones!

Photographs and television coverage of the March capture an explosion of vibrant color. I saw, in the seas of pink hats, a metaphor for the immune system of our country, and, maybe of the planet, pulsing with life and health, roused to immediate action to contain and neutralize this malignancy which confronts us.

Like our immune system, all of the disparate anti-bodies united as an organized, cooperating, integrated force to address this challenge.

As both Professor Wampole and Mr. Aslan reported, groups of people who, for the most-part had been single issue marchers—often marching in opposition to each other—Planned Parenthood Supporters, Right to Life Advocates, Nuns on the Bus (and nuns not on the bus for that matter; one of my long time spiritual directees and member of a Catholic religious order for more than fifty years, posted a picture of herself participating almost giddily in the march in her hometown.)

All over the world women, men, and children united in this perilous time to celebrate and protect one of our most precious freedoms—impermissible in fascist and totalitarian governments and in fundamentalist religious sects—the freedom to disagree: to speak out without fear of censorship on behalf of the issues and causes each of us holds most dear.

If Friday looked like a wake, Saturday looked like resurrection: perhaps even the beginning of a revolution.

And the action hasn’t stopped. Immigrant rights’ activists, along with scores of people who had never before considered the issue of immigration, flooded the airports, the internet and the e-mail addresses and telephones of their elected representatives to demand that the immigration ban and denial of entry to people with green cards and legitimate visas cease immediately.

Throughout the country people, many of whom haven’t met before, are forming groups called Huddles to work on strategies and concrete plans of action recommended by the Women’s March and Indivisible.

Pittsburgh Sq Hill Huddle (used with permission)

Pittsburgh Sq Hill Huddle (used with permission)

These in-home and neighborhood activities bring to mind the passion and patriotism of our grand-parents and great-grand-parents (the so-called “Greatest Generation): women who gathered regularly to roll bandages and write letters to the men and women serving overseas during World War II; men too old to serve or exempted from service for health reasons, who dedicated themselves to drives, collecting old tires, newspapers, scrap metal.

womenwareffort

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I came to Los Angeles in 1973 with the touring company of an off-Broadway musical. Two of the cast members were actress, singer-songwriter, Amanda McBroom and her husband, George Ball. After the show closed the three of us stayed in Southern California and became friends.

One morning, Amanda called me and said, “I’ve written a song. I think it’s good. Come over and hear it. Thus I became one of first people to hear The Rose, which became internationally famous when Bette Midler used it as the title song in the film.

When Amanda finished playing the song I just sat there. It was literally too beautiful for words—at least my words.

“Well,” Amanda finally asked, “What do you think? Do you like it?”

“It’s perfect,” I said. And it is.

During the worst years of the AIDS epidemic the song took on the quality of an anthem.

Midler interprets it as a hymn of survival. Amanda sings it as a hymn to resilience.

And, for me, that makes all the difference.

It’s the heart that fears the breaking
That never learns to dance
It’s the dream, afraid of waking
That never takes the chance
It’s the one who won’t be taken
Who cannot seem to give
And the soul, afraid of dying
That never learns to live
When the night has been too lonely
And the road has been too long
And you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong
Just remember in the winter
Far beneath the bitter snow
Lies the seed
That with the sun’s love, in the spring
Becomes the rose

~ The Rose by Amanda McBroom

Now, we undertake this journey—as some among us quote the tag line from the HBO series, Game of Thrones: “Winter is coming!” Through this winter, and the winters that may follow, it will be up to us to be as strong, hopeful and resilient as the Rose.

“And the distinction between violent and non-violent action is that the former is exclusively bent upon the destruction of the old, and the latter is chiefly concerned with the establishment of something new.” 
― Hannah Arendt

hannaharendt

 

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