Individuals and organizations become and remain resilient with a strong sense of purpose, clear values and an adaptive approach.
A number of years ago, I began to help my Dad out with a few basic life tasks — scheduling and attending appointments, grocery shopping, sorting mail and paying bills, etc…Slowly and steadily, it became clear that my help was filling a critical need. The more time we spent together, the more I noticed what had gone missing from his life and how I could help fill in the blanks. I felt compelled to be more available to Dad but also conflicted by the amount of time that I was spending away from my husband and young boys. After one particular visit, I came home and told my family about the internal conflict that was tearing me up inside. They acknowledged the important work that I was doing with Dad and offered me their blessing. From those conversations, I settled into caregiving with greater intention and purpose. I valued my work as meaningful for me and for Dad.
Over the next 5 years, as dementia turned Dad’s life into an impossible obstacle course, I leaned into my intention to be loving support for Dad while we encountered an endless stream of unforeseeable changes. The unfamiliar work of caregiving was challenging and uncomfortable. When I bumped into my physical or emotional limits, I paid attention. After succumbing to tears, frustration or exhaustion, I would emerge ready to step back in close with renewed strength. As I watched my Dad navigate the unknowns of his world with grace and persistence, I became a resilient caregiver. Grounded in a clear sense of purpose and a strong commitment to be of service, I became ever ready to respond to new and emerging situations. Uncertainty and unpredictability joined us as constant companions.
In the last two months, uncertainty has become a hallmark of all of our lives as we respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. At a meeting last week, the Renewal in the Wilderness Board of Directors took a long and realistic look at the current landscape. The last time the board had met, in mid-February, the world was a different place. At that time, we confidently reviewed our budget for the new year and forecasted programming, funding and outreach opportunities. We divvied up responsibilities and accountabilities in a way that made the workload feel reasonable and the goals attainable. I left the meeting with a clear sense of our trajectory and a clear sense of cohesion among the entire board and staff.
Last week, however, we recognized the shifting sands of our current situation. All of our scheduled programs and most of our pending programs had been cancelled. Committee work and individual work had stalled or pivoted. We needed to look at implications for the calendar, funding, and staffing. But first, we took a giant step back to get some perspective. We acknowledged current realities, and then reviewed our mission statement. Renewal in the Wilderness (RITW) is a Portland, ME based non-profit organization that guides encounters with wildness that strengthen and sustain cultures of compassion. In our work to “help the helpers”, our target audience includes healthcare workers, justice workers and faith leaders.
We know that our work is needed now more than ever. We know that it will be needed as individuals emerge from the crisis of this moment and move towards a future. The vision, practices and programs of RITW can help people and organizations move towards a future that is more just, more compassionate, more sustainable. In so many ways, this is our time…But we cannot do the work in the way that we have been doing it. We cannot host a half-day staff retreat at a local land trust, or take a small group of individuals on a walk through a city park or a backpacking trip in the mountains. Not now, anyway. Surely, we will return to those things when we are able.
In the near future, we can focus our attention and our energy on ways to encourage and support people in finding the natural rhythms of renewal on their own. We can continue to offer tools and strategies for increasing resilience through regular intervals of engagement with the natural world. It will look different because it will reflect the uncertainty around us.
For now though, we are moving slowly. There is no need to rush to plan, forecast or band-aid. We need, first, to lean into our mission, living it for ourselves, our families and our wider community. We have re-affirmed our sense of purpose, our ability to adapt, and our capacity to sit in the unknowns. We grow ever more resilient as we exercise both our strength and our flexibility with intention. It may not always be easy but, when it is what we are called towards, it is always right.