Trying times — family illness, senseless deaths like those at the Capital Gazette — test human resilience

I used to think that there was some sort of invisible equilibrium governing the universe. In my mind, this equilibrium functioned according to Newton’s third law of motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. So, I thought to myself, if something bad happened, something good would just have to be coming up shortly. It sounds silly, but life does generally follow a pattern of ups and downs or highs and lows, so it’s a tough theory to disprove. You go through the awful break-up to get to the great relationship, you put up with the terrible job in order to get the one you really want, and so on. Lately, however, this pseudo-philosophy of mine has really been put to the test.

My fiance and I got engaged in September 2016. After the initial bliss of being newly engaged, we started to have some disagreements about what kind of wedding we wanted to have. I naively thought, “OK, we’ve gotten the bad out of the way with the arguing, everything will go smoothly from now on.”

As we continued with wedding planning, my mom started to have terrible leg pain. It got so bad that she could barely walk. After a misdiagnosis and surgery based on that misdiagnosis, a doctor finally figured out that her pain was being caused by a rare type of cancer. After another surgery and then more surgeries, her left leg had to be completely amputated from the hip down.

Just days after getting my mom’s diagnosis, the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., happened. I saw the 17 young faces of the students who were killed flash across the screen of my mom’s hospital room as we weighed her treatment options. This mass shooting affected me differently. Probably because I felt closer to death than I had in a very long time, I felt their loss more acutely.

Fast forward to a couple months later when my mom’s best friend has a stroke. Fast forward a few months to this week when my friend discovers that his mother was murdered inside of her own home in Rosedale. Fast forward to Thursday when five employees of the Capital Gazette, my hometown’s local newspaper, were murdered in their newsroom.

It’s hard to see how the equilibrium theory of the universe applies here. There have been a lot of actions, but it seems that there have been relatively few equal and opposite reactions. There has been a lot of evil, leaving many of us to wonder: Where is the good?

I’m sorry to say that I do not have an answer to that. Not right now, anyway. But, it is worth pointing out that there are little pieces of good here and there. It exists in the folks at the Capital Gazette who, despite everything, worked to put out a paper Friday. It exists in the journalists at NBC News who sent pizza to those very folks as they balanced grief and duty. It exists in my friend who carries on as an exemplary husband and father despite the horrific, unexpected loss of his mother. It exists in the survivors of the Parkland shooting who have not given up their fight, even though they could choose to bury their heads in college books and pretend none of this is happening.

The good also exists in my mom — a woman who, the day after her leg was cut off, told the physical therapist that she could not wait to get back to her job as a special education teacher so she could show her students what she can do; a woman who, while lying in a hospital bed unable to walk and in pain, gushed to a frazzled nurse over how great a job she was doing taking care of her and then, when the nurse left the room, looked at me and said, “I think she needed that.”

At first glance, these pieces of good seem small, but upon closer examination, we see the resiliency of the human spirit contained within all of them, which is something so big, so enormous that it cannot be adequately defined by the limits of language, but only captured in snapshots when it is in action. Bravery does not require a sword and a horse to ride into battle. Bravery is getting out of bed in the morning after staring with open eyes into the darkness. It’s walking to the grocery store after walking the tightrope over the abyss. It’s choosing to keep going even though it’s beyond hard.

Blair Thompson is a clinical teaching fellow in the Veterans Advocacy Clinic at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Her email is bthompson2@ubalt.edu.

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