The Resilient Warrior

Jesus wept. The shortest verse in the Bible says it all. Jesus knew what was in his future and he prayed that the fate that awaited him be changed. He knew and was willing to do what it took to save each and every one of us, but the cost was an agonizing death that went on and on. While all none of us will bear the sins of the world, we will all have body slams if we live long enough. It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when.


My body slam looks different from other people’s, but make no mistake. Everyone has a story and scars. Everyone hurts and is walking wounded somehow. Some scars are deeper. Life isn’t always fair. Young children go to school and are killed by a madman. Young children get sick—really sick and suffer. Really good people, people like the nine that died on 27 April 2011, are assassinated by someone they should have been able to trust, are gone far too soon. Those are the facts and there is no changing the outcome.


How does a person begin to live again and to move through the darkness? It is all about that magic resiliency word. Coping skills are learned in life and are developed through practice. They are not learned when one’s life falls apart. Each person is born with a measure of hardiness (which is resiliency) which is why some babies who seem to fragile to live, thrive. Resiliency is developed in families. Families that spend time together, eat together, laugh together, invest in one another, do sports, civic activities, church, vacation, talk, etc, have children that have more tools to fall back on during the hard times.


We are like rubber bands that stretch and rebound over and over until one day we do not come back quite so far or we snap and can not be fixed. We do not know when that magical pivotal moment is going to occur. We do not have a looking glass into our own future or the future of those we love. Nobody wakes up thinking that today I am going to die or get sick. Nobody. We have many practice runs and sometimes those practice trials can feel like the real thing. The tools we have and the tools we use to cope help us to grow deeper roots. Think about the Biosphere in Arizona for a minute. The Biosphere was supposed to be an enclosed self-sustaining community for people to live in for ten years. After just about two years, an interesting phenomena happened. The trees and plants started to die and the project had to be abandoned. It turns out that the trees and plants need the storms to develop strong roots. People need the small storms to practice for the big storms.


Not every person is raised in a home like that. Not every person is the same. One person has a sense of optimism and hope naturally; others have to fight for it. Humor helps. Humor develops optimism which develops hope. Hope is part of the spiritual resiliency component. Spiritual resiliency is about more than religious faith. It is about purpose, meaning making, and our value system. What motivates a person and what does the person do when things are bad. For me, that is where my rebounding started. As I heard the news, I fell to my knees keening and one thought went through my heart. That thought was how could I claim to have faith if in my darkest hour I turned from that faith. I chose. In that choice, healing began even though I didn’t recognize it at the time.


The second thing I did was to run. Running is healing for me and it helps me to fall into my faith. Faith to me is exactly what a person thinks it is. I simply chose to believe that God would carry me some how. It did not fix the loss of the one person I had built my world on and it did not negate the choice a person made or his vile act. I am not a Pollyanna, but some things have no answers. Running gave me the grounding and calmed my soul. It made me happy—not right away, but it helped me tame the sense of hopelessness.


I didn’t feel like running right away. The best gift a person gave me, was the Air Force Family Casualty Officer who met me in Dover. She told me that I wouldn’t feel like running that day, but that I would “feel better” if I did. She offered to pick me up and take me to a path that I could run on. In lacing up my running shoes, I was able to ground myself enough to plan Phil’s funeral and to face the dark moments that came next. I could barely stand up, but in the choice of pushing forward, I started step two of my recovery.


The third step of my recovery came with writing. I was unable to voice how I felt, thus I wrote how I felt. While I ran, I listened to music that helped calm my soul and over time, I developed a music play list that I go to in my darker moments. The music often fueled the words I later wrote. That writing became a book and helped me to honor Phil’s memory. Writing helped keep be grounded and then it gave me direction and focus to my purpose and making meaning out of a tragedy that ended every dream I had for my future.


The last pillar of resiliency, the social resiliency component was the least developed component I had. While I am naturally shy, I am not the only one with this struggle. Many people do not even realize it. I got very good at three year friendships. It was the military way. I could go all over the world and know people and I could carry on conversations that spoke of history and small roots of attachment even after years of not seeing someone, but I invested all I had into Phil and my children. My home became Phil. He was the same way. Let me ask one question. What happens when the one person, the only person you have invested in with any depth is the one that dies? What then?


A person thinks they have their family, but my extremely close knit family imploded. Three years later, we are finding our way back into our family, but it will never quite be the same. Someone is always missing at all of the milestones, fun times, and trials. How does a parent fix the hurts in their children when they cannot fix the hurts in themselves? My children recognized how broken I was, and they withdrew to deal with their own brokenness. Nobody wanted to hurt another. Some family members didn’t know what to say, thus they said nothing.


The people I thought were my friends? My closest girlfriend in CO unfriended me on Facebook one week after Phil’s funeral because she thought that I would hate her because she was Muslim. I never saw her that way—she was just my friend. Married couples didn’t know what to say and thus withdrew. It was incredibly lonely, but people found me. These people have become my 911 friends.


So often in life, we ask other people how they are. The standard answer is okay or fine. We walk on by.   Being a true wingman means noticing and acting. It means noticing that your teammate hasn’t been at the gym in a few days, or that they seem to be tireder than usual, or quieter than usual. It means asking them about the behaviors and taking the time to be fully present. My wingmen noticed when I was online all night because I could no longer sleep after Phil died. They IM’ed me until I was ready to slumber. My wingmen sent me small gifts, called me, encouraged me on Facebook when they sensed I was down, and they still show up when I least expect it. Just this week, one came and introduced himself at an all call. Another brought his wife to introduce to her and to take me to lunch. Another visited Phil’s tomb for his birthday. Action=wingman.


We all have invisible scars and many of my military brothers and sisters who are broken by the same event that took our nine, carry each other. Sometimes I am weak, but at a certain point, it becomes about choices. I simply cannot stay in the darkness and lose my life too. I choose to step forward believing in what lies ahead. I cannot be the girl who always needs, but never gives. Resiliency is about taking those body slams, recovering, and growing even stronger through the storm.




  1. […] The Resilient Warrior. […]

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