When people are subjected to deep and sustained stress, they can respond with anger, with aggression, with avoidance, or with withdraw. Or they can be resilient. I seem to be surrounded by resilient people this Spring: my Oxford students, who filled the classrooms on the first day back with their creativity, kindness, laughter, and intellectual curiosity; my family, who cared for my mom through the last ten months of cancer with extraordinary dedication and love; and the dauntless, inspiring people at the Multifaith Initiative to End Mass Incarceration.
People like Charles Browning, pictured here at the conference at Ebenezer Baptist Church. The criminal legal system has subjected Charles to enormous stress, but he responds with generosity, with imagination, and with love. Charles volunteers to encourage and inform people about college in prison, even amid the fourth return of his cancer. As for Jane and Rich, also at the conference, their son’s long sentence at the Federal Penitentiary could have broken them—instead, they have formed a nonprofit to help other families navigate a loved one’s prison sentence. They radiate a kind of powerful love that inspires everyone in their orbit.
Then there’s my family. I watched my dad care for his wife of sixty-four years with tenacity and love (and a lot of ice cream). Along with my brother, sister, and our extended families, we all climbed the last mountain of mom’s cancer journey alongside her, communicating and grieving and remembering and laughing together.
And finally, my students. What if your professor plunges you into Milton’s “Lycidas” and the first scene of Hamlet and a psychological study on metaphor on the first day of class? My students leaned into the challenge. One student held the door for me as I struggled with an enormous Milton anthology and a cup of coffee, another student asked if we could move the desks into a semi-circle so they could see each others’ faces, and a third student stayed after class to note the differences in Shakespeare’s paucity of stage directions and a contemporary playwright. These are the post-Covid students, whose high school years were fraught with pandemic disruptions and political turmoil.
These are the resilient people who inspire me.