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May 05

Viewing disruption as an opportunity for development: a lesson in resilience by Daniel Champer, LCPC

Two of the kindest eyes I’ve ever met resided squarely between a healthy set of laugh lines and due south from a shock of silver hair. His name was Pete, and he lived beside my family of rough-and-tumble boys who would have been much better suited for a cow pasture. Our suburban backyard resembled something out of the movie Sandlot and stood in stark contrast to his perfectly manicured cottage garden. My brother and I affectionately refer to this formative time as the “summer of the home run.” Unfortunately for Pete, his yard stood directly beyond our home run fence.

It was 1998 and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were battling for the home run title in the papers, while Daniel, Peter, and Jonathan were battling for the home run title of the backyard. It was getting late in the summer and our home run numbers weren’t quite keeping up with those of the professionals. So, in an act of pubescent wisdom, we opted for harder balls and bigger bats.

The pitch was perfect. And I don’t know if I was a little late with my swing or Jonathan peppered me a little outside, but it cleared the right field fence faster than my “oh yeah” could turn to “oh sh#%.” You see, Pete’s garden paradise was left field. Pete’s house was right field. To my horrified ears, the sound of the hard baseball smacking Pete’s meticulously maintained siding could be heard on Mars. Nobody moved. Nobody breathed. I had just moved into the home run lead yet all I could think about was how my life was going to be over the second my father got home.

And then, in painfully slow motion, a clump of silver emerged from a thicket of blueberry bushes not too far from the scene of the crime. A mass of fabric slowly unfurled to form a pair of khakis and a button-down flannel shirt. I was acutely aware of the pruning shears in the grizzled right hand. As they shuffled around the corner of the house to inspect the damage, I was too terrified to move.

Pete glanced at the frozen baseball players and he glanced at the house. And slowly, he started to laugh. He turned towards us with those smile lines fully pronounced and his crooked thumb stuck up in the air. “Great hit bub, you guys are getting pretty good.” That’s all he said. And then as if by magic, he disappeared back into his blueberry bushes.

This moment changed my life.

You see, at this time in my development I believed we were all destined to be products of our environment. If something negative happened, you were to react in a negative way. If someone in a position of authority spoke something into your life, you behaved in such a way to manifest that destiny. The 20 second interaction with Pete and his crooked green thumb initiated 20 plus years of attitude adjustment.

Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. I view it as the learned ability to see opportunity in the midst of adversity. Regardless of the chosen definition, the concept of resilience begins with a choice. We can choose to form a curse word or a smile.

As we all collectively huddle inside of homes with those whom we name family, it is easy to jump to a scenario in which our houses are being pelted with COVID-19 filled baseballs. I constantly hear the words fear, uncertainty, irritation, impatience, and others of their ilk zooming through the atmosphere. But I would challenge us to focus on one word.

Opportunity.

I currently spend much of my day planted in front of a computer screen with an oft stinky, always wiggly toddler perched on my lap intent on inserting herself into the business of the day. My toenails are pink, and I have been instructed as to the “right way” to play Princess Tea Party more times than I can count by an assertive 6-year-old. Much of my body is grass stained and my allergies are ridiculous as I attempt to keep up with our four-year-old version of a cross between Princess Diana and Attila the Hun. I have a perpetual headache and my job has required me to make very difficult decisions. My routine is disrupted and my life has been changed.

And I refuse to see this as a detriment.

I will never again have the opportunity to build relationships with my family in such an integrated way throughout the course of my workday. I am receiving the gift of free time as my 1-hour daily commute has been reduced to the time it takes me to turn off my computer. My addiction to busyness has been temporarily slowed by external forces beyond my control and as a result I feel more rested than I have in a very long time.

These are but a few of the examples of opportunities which I have been blessed with during this unique time. We are all being afforded the incredible opportunity to learn resilience. Every one of us is confronted with this choice and tension hundreds of times every day. And like any skill, you will only improve if you practice.

The development of a skill requires focus and intention. People rarely achieve milestones accidentally and prodigies are rare. Contact with the undesired outcome must be limited and redirected through supportive relationship. The beautiful paradox of resilience is you will undoubtedly fail at times in its pursuit. However, you are then immediately afforded another chance to try again.

And so, I challenge you to practice resilience. I challenge you to seek out opportunity. While we cannot change the current circumstances of our world, we can change the way we react.

My interactions with Pete helped to change my life. If you adopt his attitude, you can change yours.

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