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Tough times call for resilient people

I have been encouraging family and friends to identify a different word each day, just one, to describe self and situation during these sheltering-at-home times.

The idea is to create a daily motivation — although the terms initially offered up in response to my query tended to be words like “unsettled,” “lethargic” and “fearful.”

My word for today is “resilient.” I actually used it one day last week too, so it’s well tested. You can borrow it if you like.

Resilient is an adjective indicating a person is “able to withstand or recover from difficult conditions.” Synonyms are able, tough, hardy and buoyant. I am thinking buoyant will be my word tomorrow.

Being resilient means you stay “healthy and strong after something bad happens.” If you had a sweater and washed it in hot water and then tumble dried it for too long and it was still able to return to a normal shape, you could call that sweater resilient. I use that analogy because I did that very thing with my favorite summer sweater just last week. Some people would call that lucky.

Whatever word you select, I hope you will consider words that lead you toward more creative ways to manage inconvenience and help you envision opportunity where it seems unlikely.

We are all getting older. As we age, certain things happen. Metabolism declines progressively, and liver action slows. Reaction time lessens. Sensory function is reduced. There are a variety of theories to explain this business of aging that range from genetics to wear and tear. According to the “damage” theory, we grow old because always-present internal and external “faults” increase over the years. I suspect that a pandemic would be called an “external fault” of the highest order. If you are in your mid-70s or 80s with any, or many, of the chronic conditions your parents had, it may feel like an earthquake.

The MacArthur Foundation Consortium of Successful Aging has found that only about one-third of the characteristics involved in “getting ever older” are genetically based (your father’s diabetes, your mother’s macular degeneration).

How we age is determined by how our parents aged and how we attend to our own health, but in large part, it is up to us. In these times, our attitude about life is an enormous protective factor. Resilience, the ability to bounce back from the stresses of life, seems to be at the core.

No author needs to tell me that one important key to aging well is the ability to meet the inconveniences of life head-on and work them through with a calm spirit and a positive expectation. In fact, research supports that successful aging is directly linked to having a resilient spirit and embracing “maturity” in ways that are both creative and purposeful.

So, there it is. No matter the circumstance, aging well is up to us. Meridel LeSueur, an American poet, creative and purposeful throughout life, portrayed it most beautifully. At the age of 86, she wrote, “I am luminous with age/In my lap I hold the valley.”

Sharon Johnson is a retired health educator. Reach her at sharon@rbtrv.org.