On November 8th, 2018, I woke to my husband standing over our bed informing me that there had been a mass shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill, a popular Country-Western nightclub in Thousand Oaks, CA. We had visited Borderline several times, once to celebrate my birthday in June, and most recently to see Rita Wilson perform there late September. Wednesdays were ‘College Night’ at Borderline and it was clear that the victims, once identified, would be very young.
Before I could put on the news, I had received several texts from friends in Chicago asking if we were alright. We had moved to Southern California from the northern Chicago suburbs the winter before and our new town, Thousand Oaks, was rated among the safest in the nation.
While I frantically called my niece in Orlando to make sure her friends and side of the family were safe—she was the one who first told us about Borderline and she loved the place—I tried to make sense of yet another senseless shooting. I didn’t have much time to ruminate about it, when the Santa Ana winds picked up and I started hearing the news about wildfires in our state. The Camp Fire, which destroyed the entire town of Paradise in Northern California, had already begun its path of devastation and later had the dubious distinction of being the deadliest fire in California history.
The nearby Hill Fire started burning close to our relatives in Newbury Park, so I invited them to stay with us. I decided to pack a small bag with our medications, passports, jewelry, and a few important papers—just in case we needed to flee. Everything else, I decided, could be replaced. (Note to self: next time, pack clean underwear.)
My sister-in-law and niece came over for a couple of hours but wanted to sleep in their own beds that evening. I fretted about them, but their minds were made up. The Hill Fire in their area turned out to be a run-of-the-mill wildfire and it was easily contained. However, the Woolsey fire turned out to be another story. At 11:26pm, we received an alert from the Ventura County Fire Department to evacuate our house immediately. (We left so quickly that my son ran to my car in his PJs, without his glasses.) As my husband and I sped down Westlake Blvd. toward the 101 Freeway in our two separate cars, red flames and smoke everywhere, I thought to myself, this is what Armageddon must look like.
We were fortunate; the three of us and our poodle had a place to go, thanks to our brother-in-law in Hollywood. We were safe and even though we didn’t know if we would have a home to come back to, we knew that we were going to be OK. We hoped everyone in our community was safe. We could only pray for the people who had lost loved ones the night before in the shooting AND now had to evacuate their homes.
As we all start the New Year 2019, one word keeps popping into my mind—RESILIENCE. Resilience, the dictionary states, is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.”
The axiom that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger rings true to me. But, how do we become resilient? Is it something we can work at, develop? In my mind, it is crucial for happy, healthy, successful people, families and communities.
I started out a shy, bookwormish girl with anxieties and fears. How did I become a person who darted down blazing roads keeping her wits about her when it certainly looked like all hell was breaking loose that fire-ravaged night? How are some people able to withstand the many difficulties of life and still stay strong?
In looking at resilient people, I have noticed that they share four important qualities—optimism, perspective, a grasp of history and gratitude.
I have had a few challenges in life. I have scoliosis and wore a steel back brace through most of junior high and high school. I have a significant hearing loss and have missed more conversations than I care to remember, even with state-of-the-art hearing aids. I have had several miscarriages, including one which necessitated the delivery of a stillborn baby. I have raised a young adult son who is on the autism spectrum. I have suffered the loss of a parent, close family members and dear friends.
Each time, as the first time, the losses seemed almost insurmountable. But, then, gradually, something happened. Through grit and tears and time, I survived. And flourished. At first, I waved my fists to the heavens, and asked “Why me?” But, as I thought about it, I had to ask myself, “Why not me?”
Over the years, I met others who had experienced far worse than I had, and who still managed to become successful leaders and mentors. I admired them and wanted to become more like them. So, I watched, read and listened to those whose stories demonstrated resilience. And I have had the great, good fortune to be married to one of the most resilient people I have ever met. I learn from him daily.
Close to 300,000 people had to evacuate Southern California this past November. We certainly were not alone. Our house, backing up to the mountainside, and subdivision were miraculously saved; many others in the area were not as lucky. Thousand Oaks, like so many other communities around the country, now has a #STRONG designation. Many are still hurting, our mountains are scorched, some houses were leveled to the ground, some will never see their loved ones again.
Yet, we are not leaving Southern California. We love it here, our work is here and most of our family is here. We witness the resilience of our community daily, in the many fundraisers held and donations made for the victims of both the Borderline shooting and the Woolsey Fire, the handmade posters on so many corners thanking our brave firefighters and first responders, the kindness of the townspeople and businesses towards each other. They all go a long way to help the healing process.
My word for 2019 is RESILIENCE. Work on it, develop it, own it. Trust me, you will need it someday.
Wishing you a very Happy, Healthy and Resilient New Year….
Article by Shari Cohen Forsythe, a teacher, writer and former attorney. She is a contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum published in April, 2013.