[Life Back West] April 2009 – The Hummingbirds Return

As I suspect it’s been for a number of other people, the last 12 months have been choppy, marked by some high highs and low lows and any number of very bumpy bumps – economic and otherwise – in between. Paradoxically, those lows in our lives may let us experience the exhilaration of the highs.

My thoughts for the future, though, have stayed somehow optimistic. It’s in part having lived a few decades to have seen some ups and downs, and in part it’s personal temperament: if you can figure out a way to do something, it’s simply a matter of execution. While it’s a quality that can come across as overconfidence, it’s really a matter of having figured something out. To crib a line from a Buddhist saying, “If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.

I received a concerned note from a former colleague, a CEO in Europe, following last month’s post. She wrote, “I wish you were right, that this is only a recession. Yes, it will end eventually. . .  But this time around it is very different. . . .  A potential for things that are far beyond a recession.  This is not just a recession.”

Her note made me think of some of the research that has informed how we’ve tried to raise our son Traylor. It turns out, by the way, that you can teach resilience – and its twin, perseverance, and learn the skills as a kid AND as an adult. Among others, Robert Brooks and Sam Goldstein’s research, writings and website are one place to start.

Building resilience is one of the steps to being perseverant: the act of steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. My partner studied with Robert Coles : part of Coles’ background is his work with Ruby Bridges , who as a six year old became the first African American to desegrate an elementary school.

The type of challenge that most of us encounter – even today – pales in comparison with the resilience and perseverance exemplified by Ruby Bridges in the face of hostile, jeering crowds who accosted her as she entered school.

So the challenge among us today is to keep focused on what we can do to make small changes for the positive – to not relent, but to persevere. As Albert Einstein once said, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

Last March my version of man’s best friend, my dog Roady, died unexpectedly from lung cancer. Deeply saddened, I chugged along. Not too long after his passing, hummingbirds made a nest in our garden, right above the spot where Roady used to hang out, watch for cats, catch a fly or two, and enjoy life.

As I wrote this essay I heard the unmistakable sound of hummingbird wings: two ruby-throated hummingbirds hovered outside my study window, signaling, no doubt, their migration home after the long winter. Spring – thankfully – has come again.