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Brown Teddy Bear in Old Fashioned Suitcase

Resiliency Requires Experience

By: Donna R. Wood, Existential Coach

The one thing in life that I know is true is that one must know who one is, before they can create any type of life that is filled with meaning and purpose. A life of meaning and purpose doesn’t come wrapped in a Zen experience or regulated schedule. It comes from living each day as a person fully connected to the world in which one lives.

Through one of my self-care indulgences is where I learned this deeply important lesson. I spend time each week delving into the life and times of those who came before me, while digging through records, old photographs, and journals or articles. It is the way of the genealogist.

As I methodically piece together the life stories of all the men and women who were necessary to bring me into the world, I find myself in awe of their resilient natures. I’ve traveled back to the Norse Invasion of Great Britain, sailed across the ocean on a coffin ship, lived lives of anticipation and trepidation on the frontiers of Canada, climbed mountains in the Appalachians, and bumped along the prairies in covered wagons, all in the hopes of finding a new life filled with the promises of hope and prosperity.

Deeply engrossed in their stories, I experienced the heartbreaks of the women as their men marched off to war, leaving them to hold down the fort at home. I read the repeated scenes, where babies came quickly and left just as they had arrived. My mother’s heart ached for the women who buried their babies, leaving them behind as they forged onward. I learned of the greedy and callous men and women, who populate the family life line. There were the surprising discoveries of the clergymen, trying to hold it together in a new land, where it seemed all bets were off, and God was either dead, or overly alive.

In every family history there are the tales of war, and rumors of war, families torn apart and families coming together, women striking out on their own or cleaving to the security of men. There are times of feast and times of famine. The one thing that all of them had in common that allowed them to overcome is they were all fully engaged in the process of life – from beginning to end.

Resiliency requires experience – both good and bad. It isn’t built through reading the stories of other people’s lives. Although, those lives still have meaning and purpose for us in the present. They are the stories of hope. They are the stories of meeting yourself where you are, and building from there. They are the stories of sometimes building your wings on the way down, while living on a hope and prayer. They are the stories that brought us here today. One misstep, episode of indecision, or making a different decision by any one of them, may well have prevented our being born at all or having been born into a very different life – for better or worse.

As I venture into each life, I look for the lessons that I can use today to make my own life filled with meaning and purpose. But, most importantly, I leave their lives as they were, and engage in my own life, so that when my 25th great grandchild reads about GreatX25 Grandma Donna, there will be lessons they can use in their life, many of which were gathered into my own life from the ancestors. My legacy will be the lessons of hope, perseverance, and an enduring faith in tomorrow.

Breaking the Chrysalis

The butterfly is a flying flower…  ~Ponce Denis Écouchard Lebrun

by: Donna R. Wood

Most people at the age of five dream of being
something extraordinary like a firefighter, doctor, lawyer or some other high
level profession, but not me. I wanted to be a flower. Flowers were soft,
delicate, and beautiful. My grandma and I would pick wildflowers in the fields
and ditches along the highway, bring them home, and put them in a vase on the
table. I would marvel at the menagerie of colors and design. Oh, how I wanted
to be one of them. They were perfect in every way.

That’s the trouble with people; none of us are
perfect. We go through life collecting imperfections born out of bad decisions,
mistakes, or even through circumstance. We hold on to these imperfections,
packing them neatly inside and drag them with us wherever we go. We become so
weighed down by all this unnecessary self-perception of imperfection, we cannot
begin to imagine the idea of taking flight in life.

I dragged around bag after bag of guilt, worry,
bitterness, and regret. The weight of these bags became more than I could
carry, but I insisted on taking them with me wherever I went. I would try to
fly, only to find myself confined in the chrysalis of the life I had made for
myself. I had constructed walls around me so high and thick that no one could
get in, and in the process trapped myself inside.

It was dark in that chrysalis. Yet over time, the
darkness became a source of comfort. It was familiar. I knew each pain and
suffering by name and date. I knew all the characters that had played a role in
their creation. I would reminisce in their moments of completion. I began to
live in the memory of all that had been, and my world became very small, ending
where the chrysalis began.

One day, I stopped struggling to get out. I just stopped. It was a pointless effort. I couldn’t do it. I thought I wasn’t strong enough. I thought I wasn’t perfect enough. In reality, I wasn’t brave enough. I was scared of all the new pains and sufferings that might be out there. It was painful inside the chrysalis, but the risk to emerge was too great. All the what-ifs came into play. What if I get hurt again? What if I’m not good enough? What if…what if…what if… If a butterfly stays too long in the chrysalis it will die. It will suffocate in its own skin, never having felt the soft summer breeze that lifts it to flight.

Every chrysalis has a weak point, a place in the
wall that can and should be broken. But how? I learned, inside the chrysalis,
where the source of true strength lies – inside us. We have to take that deep
breath and expand until the walls break, and we are free. When a butterfly is
inside the chrysalis, at the moment before it emerges, it swallows air from the
outside world to expand its thorax and break the chrysalis open at the weakest
point.

When the butterfly emerges it is no longer a
caterpillar. It cannot carry the extra baggage from its previous state with it.
The butterfly must leave behind the days of being a caterpillar. It must leave
behind the days of struggling to survive – to find food, hide from predators,
and live each day until the next. It must leave all the pains and suffering of
its caterpillar days in the ruins of the chrysalis. Only then will it truly be
free to fly.

Although a butterfly spends but two weeks in the
darkness of the chrysalis, shedding its past self, I spent almost three years.
Transformation does not happen overnight – for the butterfly or for people. The
most frightening moment of the process is in the moment before emergence. Break
the chrysalis anyway.