When I was 26 years old, my mother died and I felt as if I could not bounce back, I was tapping out, I was done. This was a huge bump from my resiliency zone and I felt as if I would never “bounce back”. Well that's because true resilience is not about bouncing back, quicker, harder and stronger, in fact it is the exact opposite. After my mother died, I decided to go back to school to get my Masters in Dance and I spent the following three years nursing per diem and dancing every day as I grieved the greatest loss of my life. Looking back I realize that resilience in that moment was not bouncing back, or staying strong, resilience meant slowing down, softening, feeling all my sadness and grief, and running to what brought me joy . . . dance.
Singing in the Suffering
I remember when I heard her heart stop. It was 5:30 am and I was lying next to her in bed; all night I have been listening to her breath go in and out as the pauses between each breath got longer and longer until the next breath never came. I placed my ear to her heart and I listened, but I heard nothing. This unconditional pulse of love that had been beating my whole life—the unconditional love that had been guiding me, nurturing me, caring for me—had suddenly stopped. I gathered my brother and sisters, and we held my mother and sang her favorite song, together holding hands as she left her body.
After the death of my mother, I felt as if I could not bounce back, I could no longer be resilient, I was tapping out, I was done. I could not be strong any longer, and the flow of my tears began and did not stop for the next 3 years when I decided to go per diem in nursing and return to school to earn my master’s degree in dance. Looking back, I wonder, is this what resiliency really is? Up until this point, my definition of resiliency was to be strong—to bounce back quicker, harder, and stronger and be unchanged by my circumstances, to say yes and to take on more and more. I wonder now if the meaning of resiliency is to soften, to soften enough to feel and to find soft spaces of support to land. To seek out our joy in the midst of our sorrow and to run to them with all that we have. I wonder if it is in the softening, the plié, the bending of our knees that we are gathering the strength and support for ourselves to continue to grow and remember our resilient and brilliant selves.
Together, as we navigate the unknown continuation of COVID, grief, burnout, and fatigue, I urge everyone to put their ears to their hearts to listen to their own pulse, their own beat, and their own longings—to take a moment to connect to themselves through the arts, movement, and play. Once we are in connection with what we need in order to be cared for and we take the necessary steps to care for ourselves, I wonder: What would happen when we put our ears to the hearts of one another, hold one another’s hand, and collectively care for each other? I believe our hearts are urging us not to bounce back quickly from all we have experienced but to soften, to cry our tears, to listen, to slow down, to dance, to sing, to paint, to reflect, to grieve and, when ready, to use our soft landing, to plie and wholeheartedly embrace the next leap that transpires.
Tara Rynders, The Dancing Nurse, is the CEO and Founder of The Clinic, an arts and play-based immersive theater company that creates workshops and performances in hospital settings to prevent burnout, decrease secondary traumatic stress, and create more (Re)Brilliant and equitable healthcare systems.