My parent’s divorce hurt my soul. Standing witness against the man that tried to kill my mother did, too. As did moving 23 times in 21 years. Falling victim to an abusive boyfriend almost broke my soul. After my brother’s second suicide attempt, I feared my soul had died.
But die it did not. My soul has been conditioned to be resilient. Resilience is the key to the soul’s survival. This I believe.
I can take a look over my body and see a constellation of scabs and a scars, a reminder that at least part of my being is equipped to heal itself. But my soul didn’t seem to possess that remedial quality, and at an early age I realized one of my greatest tests would to be to create an immune system for it; a first line of defense—or life would swallow me whole. My soul would become as tough as knees and elbows; no matter how bad the last wound hurt.
Resilience wasn’t complete with toughness alone: it took grace. One night in my early teenage years, my cousin picked my sister and I up in my aunt’s car with couple friends and we drove to the beach. We just sat awhile and I remember thinking how fast the tide was moving, and how cold the sand felt on my feet. I was glad that no one wanted to smoke pot because at that point I wasn’t sure how I was going to say no to drugs. I was very quiet that night, preserving each beautiful detail into an indulgent memory. When life wanted me to grow up too fast, it reminded me what being young was supposed to feel like. It reminded me that I still wanted to feel life, with my senses, my heart, and my soul, even when I needed to be tough. Even when feeling life meant feeling pain.
Resilience didn’t just emerge like a scab on my knuckle. The remedies for my soul came from relationships with others.
My grace was questioned when toughness seemed to be the only mode of survival. But professors where there to introduce me to Hemingway’s short stories and Baroque art. Coaches made me sign agreements to leave my troubles at the gym door and the wooden floors of the basketball court became my sanctuary. Administrators listened without a sign of judgment in their expression or tone as I explained the traumatic and sometimes embarrassing circumstances of my life. I left college with this balance of toughness and grace that, in a way, I felt had been given to me. My next step would be to pass it onto others.
Today, I believe in preserving the grace of young people so that they may be fundamentally changed by their experiences. I believe in teaching the value of toughness and the rejection of hardness, so that others may remedy their own souls. So that it is they who swallow life whole, and not the other way around.
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