It was August 1952, our family had just moved from Huntington Park California to Long Beach California. Our new home had the benefit of being closer to the ocean, resulting in feeling the early morning ocean breeze. (My mother told me the mildest weather in the world existed between Long Beach and San Diego.)
That first night I slept in my new bed in my new home. Three nights later, I was sleeping in a hospital bed at Los Angeles General Hospital. I had suddenly been struck with polio.
At the time ( as I look back on it now) I didn’t miss the best weather in the world, I didn’t miss my old home, I didn’t think about my new home. Being in the hospital didn’t bother me. I didn’t pine away because there was no sunshine on my face, no ocean breeze against my cheeks. I made no judgments about being whirled around on stretchers going from one hospital lab to another.
All I knew at seven was, I now lived in a hospital.
The only person I missed was my mother, not all the time, just at visiting hours, if she was unable to visit me, which was only once.
That was a painful start to my life. All things considered, however, I didn’t take polio seriously. I wasn’t mad, or sad; I definitely wasn’t scared.
I have thought, that’s the gift of being a child: living in the ever present present, not thinking about the past, for there is so little history to think about, not dwelling on the future, for there is so little realization about what the future is. Children are content existing in the present. They don’t let present conditions bog them down. Or, so I thought.
Recently, I read an article in The New Yorker magazine ( February 11, 2016) indicating that research uncovered a personality characteristic only certain children possess. When placed under abnormally stressful conditions for extended periods of time, certain children manifest psychological “resilience” which allows them to successfully overcome adversity.
According to the essay, about one third of young children, studied over three decades, manifested resilient behavior even though exposed to abnormally high stress when young. These children grew into successful, well adjusted adults.
That research was an eye opener for me. It challenged my assumption that all children possess the gift of living in an ever present present, or what research now describes as resiliency. Unfortunately, about two thirds have no such luck. They suffer and that suffering carries through to their adult lives, and manifests itself in counterproductive behavior such as chronic drug and alcoholic abuse, depression, and anti-social behavior.
That saddens me on every level I can think of, especially the fairness level. A young child is, for example, subjected to a serious life altering disease, and solely based on a genetic crap shoot, they lack the ability to adjust because they lack resilience? If anything is unfair in life, that’s it.
However, the article ends on a hopeful note. Research also reveals that children, teenagers, and adults plagued by trauma can learn skills that aid in developing greater resiliency. One such skill is the ability to challenge and shrink life long held narratives about the tragedies of their lives.
I agree. Although I am probably in the one third of the population that is blessed with built in resiliency, I am not immune from exaggerated narratives I have sometimes used to describe my formative years. I have found that if I revisit those narratives and challenge them, their impact shrinks in the importance I’ve allowed them to have on my mindset.
I am blessed with a resilient personality, but I’ve learned how to nurture more of the stuff too. I can’t help what I was born with, but I can certainly work to take advantage of opportunities to improve myself where such is possible.