Resiliency in Practice (Santa Barbara “Tea Fire”)

My mother-in-law, Arlene, lives in Santa Barbara. It’s day two of the Santa Barbara/Montecito “Tea Fire”. Unfortunately she was one of the over 5,000 homeowners who had to evacuate. I spoke to her the morning after it began and she was staying with local friends. It was a quick conversation as we were talking on her cell phone and she was concerned about how much more time she would have before her battery ran out. As anyone in her position, it is in afterthought she wished she remembered the charger. But when one is rushed to make urgent decisions, a cell phone charger is clearly not on the priority list.

In those minutes that she did have to gather things, she took her computer, some irreplaceable music from her years and years of dance and one photo of her daughter Lydia. It was one she knew could not be replaced.

For as long as I have known my mother-in-law, (now over 23 years) she is what I would describe a woman of resilience. Arlene is an adventurous woman and with that comes many life experiences that will test how one handles the unexpected and stressful. I know so many folks who if given the same circumstances, would be devastated, overwhelmed, depressed or angry. For example, when she was traveling in the south of France a few years ago, she stopped in a little town cafe to get lunch. Upon her return, her car windows were smashed in and all her possesions on the trip were stolen… passport, luggage, IPOD, camera, clothing, medicines, and all the souvenirs she had collected while on her on the 3-week trip.

Now most folks would have focused on being overwhelmed. But when we spoke with her just hours after it occurred, although initially discouraged about losing “things”, she was more focused on how helpful and kind the French police and embassy had been to her! It is this kind of attitude that I respect and admire about her. She chooses how she will experience her life. And that is the key to resilience and life-long happiness.

This morning, Chris (my husband, her son) called her to check up on how she was doing. After he got off the phone he described her as “energetic” and being her usual self; that is, taking a bad situation and making it into one that she could feel empowered and find ways to serve others in need. She had spent five hours yesterday training with the Red Cross so she could help others in need for these upcoming days of uncertainty. There’s still no guarantee that her home will survive this fire until we all know it’s been 100% contained. Everyone is still at the mercy of the unpredictability of the winds.

I am hopeful that she will return to her home that Chris and his sisters were raised in. But in practicing resiliency as she so eloquently does, particularly in times of great challenge and adversity, I want her to know what a role model she is for me personally. In my own work supporting others in times of struggles, Arlene is one of the many teachers who support the belief in the power of choosing our thoughts and thus, affecting the perception of what we experience. She clearly chooses positive over negative, empowering over dis-empowering, creator over victim.


Arlene with daughters, Rachel & Lydia

So if each of us has the power to choose, and we know we do, then imagine the difference our own quality of life could be if we focus on those thoughts that support us and make us stronger … more resilient.

All my positive thoughts are will you, Arlene.