Friday, August 31, 2018

On Resilience

"Something very beautiful happens to people when their world has fallen apart: a humility, a nobility, a higher intelligence emerges at just the point when our knees hit the floor."  Marianne Williamson

A year ago at this time, my knees were about as close to hitting the floor as they've ever been in my life.

My mother was recovering from a recent surgery due to lung cancer and my dad was on his deathbed.  I was traveling to and from Southern California every few days to be with them and to help my mom deal with the many things that inevitably come at us when a loved one is about to die. Meanwhile, in RVSD we were busy trying to replace two school administrators who left the district suddenly and without warning, just weeks before students were to arrive.  Our entire RVSD team was working full-speed and virtually around the clock to take care of the thousands of details that need to be addressed to successfully open a school year.  There were also emails ... so many emails ... with all manner of issues to address, questions to answer and rumors to quell.  And of course, the local newspaper and social media were ablaze with the usual ill-informed rants, personal attacks and distractions that have become the background noise of our daily experience.

I'm not complaining and definitely not seeking anyone's sympathy, as I know everyone faces challenges, hard times, disappointments, sadness, loss and pain.  Instead, I'm observing, reflecting, and appreciating how resilient we can all be when we have people in our lives to steady and support us when our knees can't.

Some years ago I received a call from a principal who was in tears over the fact that one of her teachers had simply abandoned her position and left all her first graders wondering if somehow it was their fault.  The students showed-up for school that day and lined-up as they always did, to wait for their teacher to come and take them to their classroom. The kids waited and waited, while all the other kids and teachers went inside their rooms. Their teacher never came.  Finally someone alerted the principal and she came to take the kids into the classroom.  Once inside they found the teacher's keys on the desk with a note saying she was quitting and not coming back.  There was no warning, no "sign" of a problem and no way to protect a group of six-year-olds from what they all knew had just happened.

That day, and several days afterward was spent helping little knees get up from the floor.  Teachers, parents, students, the principal and many of us from the District Office, all pitched-in to help the kids recover, receive needed reassurance and deal with their disappointment, sadness and loss.  The students rebounded quickly. Within a few weeks we found and hired a great new teacher, and the students rebounded even more.  They ultimately had a great year and many parents later reflected it was the best of their children's entire elementary school experience.  Those students taught us all a lesson in the power of resilience through the care and support of others.

In a couple of weeks our calendars will once again turn to "September 11th," a day of unspeakable tragedy, senseless loss and profound pain. All these years later I still cannot comprehend the impact that dark day must continue to have on the lives of all who were so directly touched and irrevocably changed by it. For all of us, but most especially those intimately linked to the events of 9/11, the loss will never go away.  Yet through the care, compassion, understanding and helping hands of others, we've all read accounts of how survivors of 9/11 found, incredibly so, a way to get up off their knees.

Resiliency through the support of others, is the path from darkness to the light.

In my case, I have time and again come to see and appreciate that my resilience is an inner strength I could not have found on my own.  My wife, daughters and their significant others, grandsons, family, friends and colleagues help me find it.  Our incredible RVSD Board of Trustees helps me find it.  Our supportive community helps me find it.  Our inspiring students help me find it.  My mentors and all the special people who helped me on my journey to this place, help me find it.

I don't know if resilience in the face of adversity inspires higher intelligence, nobility or humility, but I do believe resilience is a beautiful thing. Hopefully each of us has others in our lives who can help us find our resilience when we most need it.  May we be there for them as well.