THE HUMAN CAPACITY FOR RESILIENCE
Words by Jerome Lubbe
Photo by Tom Verdoot
I grew up on a farm in rural northeastern Tennessee in a tiny town named Mohawk. My family immigrated from Zaire in 1990, and within a few years found ourselves living 10 minutes down a gravel road in a house built in 1912, surrounded by thousands of acres of cow pastures and less than 40 people registered in the city.
As an 11-year-old, I have this distinct memory of going out to an enormous tobacco field with my dad and working for eight grueling hours with Old Man Smelcer and Mack. Unbeknownst to me when I got in that old 63 F-100 in the morning with my dad, I would be offered the obscene riches of $20 day. I was ecstatic. The anticipation of my first paycheck, for a kid who had never had an allowance, a piggy bank, or held his “own” money, was exhilarating.
I helped to hang the tobacco leaves in preparation for their chance to dry in the rafters of a barn that felt, to my 11-year-old brain, like it was built in the 18th century. It was a miracle it still stood. When I returned home, my identical twin brother Justin asked sarcastically, “How much did you get? Two dollars?” I still remember the physical sensation of excitement in my body as I smugly responded, “Add a zero!”, as I strode victoriously into the house with my loot.
It was my first personal experience with harvest, my first memory of “putting my hands to the plow” and tangibly “reaping what I had sown.” That experience left an indelible mark on my brain of what it means to get a return on your investment. I worked eight hours in a tobacco field as an 11-year-old and came away feeling like I had won the lottery. Let’s be honest—a good portion of my “victory” was rubbing it in my twin brother’s face.
How is it that our young minds and hearts always manage to believe that our return, our harvest, was always worth the investment? No one had to convince me that the reward was worth the effort. I intrinsically and wholly believed it.
The truth is that this experience happened in the summer of ‘94. Just one year prior, my family had sought refuge in that 1912 home during the “Storm of the Century,” the blizzard of 1993. In just a few short hours in March, the storm dropped just over 50 inches of snow on Mohawk. We were buried, literally, under more than four feet of snow in the middle of the woods for more than two weeks. For context, this house had no HVAC, no central heat, only fireplaces. Our family had to move every bed into the downstairs living room in order to conserve the heat of our primary fireplace in a drafty old house with only hardwoods. We had three kids under 12, two parents, and our bi-polar grandmother in one room. For two weeks. In the woods. Trying to make it all work. Trying to survive.
Fast-forward to 2020.
If you are like me, 2020 has been the year of losing track of what day or even what month it is. You might have found yourself asking questions such as, “Did May last 90 days?”, “Is it really only July?” or, “What will the rest of this year look like for me/us?”
You may be “trying to make it all work.” You may be “trying to survive.” Hopefully, some of us may be making it all work due to the harvest and the resources with which we came into this momentous year.
The reality is that many, if not all of us, are being forced to redefine our goals and, ultimately, our expectations. Many of us have lost real and tangible hope. Some of us may have lost family, jobs, income, perspective, faith, and even maybe ourselves a bit. This year hasn’t been what any of us expected, and we are left wondering, “What do I do now? What do I do with the rest of this year? Where do I go from here?”
The reason the 11-year-old version of me felt so proud and victorious of what was cultivated working in that field was because of expectations.
cul·ti·vate | \ ˈkəl-tə-ˌvāt \
to prepare or prepare and use for the raising of crops
to foster the growth of
I went out with my dad not knowing there would be any pay. I just wanted to be with my dad for the day. I expected to be with my dad, and I was learning what it looked like to cultivate my relationship with him. In hindsight I am grateful that I had this memory, this experience, as my dad would pass away unexpectedly just three years later. The efficient Enneagram 2 in me was already cultivating my desire to serve and support those around me. To show that I too could be needed and useful. My anticipation and my expectancy was grounded in that quality time with my dad. My expectations were different. When I arrived and learned of the chance to make $20 for the day, I was thrilled and pleasantly surprised.
Old Man Smelcer stood in the field in his overalls and a straw hat (no, I am not making that up), looked at me, and said in a voice only 92 years of use in the South can produce, “Son, do you see that field of tobaccuh? This time last year it was all gone. All of it. The blizzard done killed it. Every single plant. Gone. We lost the whole crop last year. Everything. Overnight. You know the beautiful thing with farming? Don’t matter what the weather does to us. The ground is still good. It’s resilient. Bad weather’ll come. Sure. But in the end, ground’s still got what it needs. The soil remembers what to do. We just have to trust the process and know that some years you’ll lose everything, but most years you won’t. The key is to understand that farming is hard work, yes, but mostly, it’s patience. Hard work for the effort of planting seeds. Hard work for tending and cultivating what you’re growing. But mostly, it’s being patient. Knowing that the harvest comes regardless, even if the blizzard takes it all out. The harvest still comes. It always comes.”
A neurological truth that you can take to the bank is that when fear goes up, cognition goes down. It is hard for us to think straight or to understand how we feel. It is difficult to know what to say, how to process, or even to understand what is happening to us. The reality is that for many of us hope has been deferred, over and over and over again. And hope deferred makes the heart sick. Fortunately, our bodies, our minds, our hearts, and our spirits are resilient. The human being (you), has the innate capacity to heal, to recover, and to choose how you move through this season and forward into the next.
Our brain and our body are naturally capable of weathering so much. We are so resilient. You are so resilient. I have seen children who couldn’t speak, develop into capable and self-sufficient young adults. I have seen the elderly get out of wheelchairs through sheer determination and grit when their doctors told them it wasn’t possible. I have seen stroke and head injury patients regain full function after catastrophic events.
You can do hard things.
You have done hard things.
You will continue to reap the rewards of your grit and your determination.
I believe this.
Allow this season, this year, this time to provide context for how you will prepare for the coming seasons. Remember, it ultimately does not matter what the weather/the world does to you. Your body, mind, heart, and spirit are intrinsically capable. You are resilient. Bad experiences will come. Sure. But in the end, you innately still have the seeds of what you need in you. Your body knows what to do. Trust the process and know that some years you may lose everything, but most years you won’t. The key is to understand that the effort of experiencing your harvest is hard work, but mostly it is patience. Hard work for the effort of planting seeds. Hard work for tending and cultivating what you are growing. But mostly, it’s being patient. Knowing that the harvest comes regardless. Even if this year tries and even succeeds at times in burying you and those you love. The harvest still comes. It always comes.
Here are some questions to consider as you move into the next season, even when it might be hard right now to gauge what day, week, month, or season we are even in:
- What seeds am I planting, and what is being cultivated in my life?
- What fruit am I bearing? Truly.
- What expectations do I have about the return on my investments?
- Are my expectations realistic and/or healthy?
- What happens if my harvest doesn’t come, and how do I course correct?
- What support do I have to weather these storms when they arrive?
- What quantity of fruit and provision do I truly need to make it through this season?
- What can I prune and remove in order to foster greater quality of growth over quantity?
- What am I doing to be proactive in my efforts to do the work?
- What am I doing to be intentional about my rest and my recovery?
- What do I need to recognize that I simply cannot control?
- What can I in fact impact with intentionality?
- What can I do to find my own breath? Just once. Repeat.
Consider these questions in regard to physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual health.
Remember, practice doesn’t make perfect; it makes permanent.
Be gentle with yourself and those around you.