The nature of resiliency

By THERESA WELLS, Connect Columnist

Recently I was describing my battle with my almost two-decade long eye disease to an acquaintance. It was one of those rare occasions when they asked for the details and I answered, something I normally avoid for fear of becoming one of “those people” who tell you every gore-filled element of their latest medical problems. After I finished recounting the tale, ending with the corneal perforation that occurred almost a year ago and leaving me entirely blind in my left eye (at least until the perforation heals, if it ever does, and/or I receive a corneal transplant), the acquaintance commented on how “lucky” I am to be so resilient in the face of such challenges.

Luck, I wondered? Do people really think resiliency and the ability to withstand the storms that buffet us have anything to do with luck?

Resiliency – the ability to recover, to bounce back, to continue on – is not a quality we are born with. It is a skill we learn, and one that I sense is perhaps of more value than many other skills we work to achieve. It is normal when life pounces on us to take some time to collect ourselves, but those who have developed resiliency are able to fight back, sometimes taking a different path and sometimes stubbornly forging ahead on the path they are on, undeterred by the obstacles they find.

Just as individuals can be resilient, so too can communities. There are tales of communities that have failed…

Just as individuals can be resilient, so too can communities. There are tales of communities that have failed, quietly dried up as residents drifted away because the place could not withstand whatever challenges it faced. There was a lack of collective will to find a way to recover, a deficit in overall resiliency that allowed people to believe leaving wasn’t just an option, but the only option – and so there are ghost towns that dot the North American landscape, places once bustling with life and now gone eerily quiet. I have been to a few and I always wonder what it was like not only at the peak of life in those towns but what it was like in their dying days, as people packed up and moved on.

We are facing some challenging times of our own right now in our community. It is nowhere near the total collapse that led to the demise of some of the ghost towns I have visited, but it is no less troubling as I see skilled local residents lose their employment and find themselves unable to secure another job. We are facing some difficult times, and of that there can be no doubt.

What we are also seeing, though, is a community that has, through painful experience in decades past, learned resiliency. Acquiring resiliency is not an easy thing, as if one leads a life untroubled by challenges one will never know the need to be resilient. In order to be resilient one must face challenges – sometimes tremendous ones – to build that skill, to learn to find faith even when it seems impossible and to carry on even when it might be far easier to simply give up.

Those who have been here long enough have already helped to develop this community’s resiliency, and we have witnessed the peaks and valleys of life in a resource based town. Those who are newer here may not be as familiar with the resilient nature of the place, and think that perhaps – just maybe – this will be the moment in history that will break us (one journalist, when questioned closely, admitted to me that they had been sent to cover the “downfall of Fort McMurray due to the economy”, a story angle that made me laugh as I told them they would be gravely disappointed as news of our demise was greatly exaggerated).

Fort McMurray is a resilient place, and I believe it attracts resilient residents, too.

Fort McMurray is a resilient place, and I believe it attracts resilient residents, too. Those who base their incomes on a resource – whether it is oil, or gold, or even wheat – know that the world can be a fickle place and that a freak hailstorm can flatten your bumper crop and the bottom can drop out of the oil barrel in a heartbeat. It is in that knowledge that we find our resiliency, because we accept the risks and yet continue to do what we do because we know we will find a way. Fort McMurray will find a way, whether it means just going about our business while we weld the bottom back onto that oil barrel or whether we begin to think of ways to diversify our economic base to further build our resiliency.

Resiliency isn’t about being lucky. It’s a choice we make once we have learned the ability to be resilient because we have had some challenges thrown at us. Once we have learned the skill we can make the choice to bounce or to crumble – and one thing I have learned in my time in this community is that the people of this community have no intention of crumbling, because we are the very definition of resilient.

– Connect Weekly –