Definition of RESILIENCE
1: the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress
As a therapist and adult child of alcoholics, one of the great questions I’ve been intrigued with is that of resilience. Given identical horrific experiences, why does one person “bounce back” and another crumble? The theme of resilience, the mystery of making straw into gold and lemons into lemonade, is one of the most interesting to me in life.
I explore this in my novels as Lei, a childhood sexual abuse survivor, turns her early nightmare into fuel for her quest for justice. It’s a theme I explore with my clients, as I try to work with them to identify crippling thoughts and beliefs that keep them from reaching their potential. And it’s one of the most interesting things to me about Bethany Hamilton.
Bethany embodies resilience in physical form (see above definition). But trauma of her type can be so much more, taking the form of fear and giving up because things “aren’t fair” and the simplest tasks become difficult with one hand. There are a lot of overt reasons for Bethany’s ability to make a comeback from being one-armed (namely her faith, her support system) but I think there’s one that the press has overlooked.
She's the youngest and only girl of the family, with tough, physical older brothers for whom no physical feat was too challenging.
This early effect cannot be overestimated.
Bethany followed her brothers wherever they went, tried to do whatever they did, and they were a couple of risk-takers from the get-go. Bethany got toughened up in the school of older brothers and it's stood her in good stead.
I’ll never forget seeing her running after her brothers down the street at age two, diapers sagging, as they engaged in some wicked street hockey with sticks—“wait for meeee!” was her war cry. Even then she was fearless and determined.
I’m not at all sure the unique blend of athleticism, perseverance and inner beauty she exhibits could have happened in any other family. Timmy and Noah’s unquestioning, total support of their sister speaks well of their character, and Tom and Cheri’s support of each kid to reach their potential has been an admirable juggling act every parent has struggled with.
My daughter is just a year older than Bethany, and in October 2003 when we got the call about Bethany’s shark attack, I burst into tears.
I knew what a thirteen-year-old girl’s arm looks like up close and personal—slender as a young branch, finely turned, a miracle of engineering and potential. My always overactive imagination pictured the shark’s teeth tearing through that tender flesh like butter, the blood everywhere. I made myself sick and had to go to bed.
This is a nightmare situation every surfer, if they’re honest, has imagined.
I wish I could say I had a better reaction but I didn’t. I was devastated. I kept thinking of how I’d feel if it were Tawny, how we’d cope, and I greatly wonder if our “resilience” could have been nearly that of the Hamiltons. We’d been so excited about Bethany’s professional surfing potential, Tom keeping us frequently updated on her progress in contests. It all seemed like such a waste, another stupid tragedy in a world full of them.
In those early days, we cried a lot.
But we hadn’t counted on Bethany and the miracle of her resilience.
I asked her on one of her visits to Maui (she was staying with us and competing at Honolua Bay) if she ever worried about sharks.
“I do, but I worry about missing out on being a surfer more,” she said.
Courage is not that we don’t fear, but that we do what we need to anyway.
I pray courage and resilience for the world today. May each person affected by our many global tragedies dig deep and find the resilience to go on, not only to survive but to thrive.
Bethany’s story shows us it’s possible, even without early training in the School of Older Brothers.