Faye Rapoport DesPres

Thoughts on Resilience

Resilience can go an awful long way. – Eddie the Eagle

Icelandic horse – Photo: Faye Rapoport DesPres

Someone told me recently that I possess a quality I had never thought much about: resilience.

A memory from childhood came to mind. I was born in New York City, but when I was six my family moved to a rural community upstate. My parents renovated an old farmhouse surrounded by 33 acres of hay fields. One of my first friends in school was the daughter of a dairy farmer; I remember seeing her father squirt milk from an udder directly into a pan for the cats who lived in the barn.

When I was twelve or thirteen, I started taking riding lessons at a horse farm nearby. I used to ride my bicycle to my lessons once a week, pedaling up a steep hill on a gravelly dirt road past a house with a humongous dog that was always sleeping in the front yard.

These were English riding lessons. I wore one of those little black helmets (borrowed from the farm), and at some point I started to learn jumping.

One day, after the horse I was riding sailed over a jump, I slipped out of the saddle and down the side of the horse. Somehow I never let go of the saddle. My feet hit ground and, in one motion, I bent my knees and jumped back up onto the horse, swinging myself back into the saddle. (Kids, DO NOT try this at home.)

I guess that’s as close as you can get to the classic phrase that encourages resilience: “Get right back up on that horse.”

When this person recently described me as “resilient,” I thought about the comment. The truth is, I’ve never felt as if I’ve had much of a choice when it comes to swinging myself back into the saddle. Like most of us, I’ve faced my share of obstacles and hard times. Maybe I was afraid that if I stopped for too long to consider how or whether to move forward, I’d have to face how scary the next step was, or how much whatever had happened had hurt, or how easy it would be to give in and give up. When I was younger despair sometimes won for a while, but letting it keep on winning never felt like the right option. In the end, I had a choice — feel bad or figure out how to feel better.

The thing is, I can’t take full credit for my resilience. Wherever you find someone who is resilient, there’s a good chance you’ll find one or more people who helped them along the way. It might be a family member, a friend, a colleague, or some combination. Resilient people may have felt alone at some point, but chances are someone took notice. Someone stopped to listen, offer a hand, or say. “If you jump, I’ll be here.”

After I lost my job due to COVID-19, I got support and encouragement from friends and colleagues. Several made job suggestions and passed my resume around. When that didn’t lead to an offer, another friend suggested I try teaching writing again and tutoring online. Then she recommended me to an entire community of parents and helped me put together a schedule for the fall. Meanwhile, a friend who still lives in that rural upstate town, and who spent twenty years teaching at-risk students nearby, put together a folder of lesson plans for me.

Not everyone will be someone who helps. But the people who do are the only ones who matter. The generosity of my friends and colleagues will not be forgotten. I intend to pay it forward any way I can.

The way I see it, when I fell off that horse years ago, I wasn’t able to jump back on because I was a great rider — I could take that leap because I was riding a great horse.

A community of trusted colleagues and friends is your horse. Count on them to be there when the time comes to jump.

And bring peppermints.