“When your heart is broken, make art with the pieces.”
Today I was having my nails done and a woman sat down next to me and said to the room: “My sister died yesterday. So I’m here for a bit of pampering”. Why am I telling you this? Well, I attended an event on Women’s Day where Gabi Lowe was the guest speaker, and since then I’ve been unable to think of little else but her and her family’s story.
This ties in with the lady in the nail salon how? Because Gabi’s talk centred on the notion of resilience. Why some people bend and break when severe trauma comes into their lives, and how others adapt, grow and become even stronger versions of themselves. And Gabi should know all about this, being a professionally qualified life coach, mentor, facilitator and speaker. She is also the mother of two daughters, the eldest being Jenna Lowe, the most remarkable young woman who single handedly increased organ donation in this country by 286%, with her award winning campaign #Getmeto21.
Jenna had a rare and degenerative disease called Pulmonary Hypertension, and she tragically died at age 20. By all accounts, Jenna was a remarkable human being. Her mom told us that when Jenna was diagnosed, she didn’t think “why me?”, like all of us would have. Instead she said to her family: “why not me?”. If anyone can face this disease, and make a difference to thousands (tens of thousands) of people’s lives in the process, why should it not be me?
This kind of wisdom is not bestowed on many people. In fact, most of us spend entire lifetimes trying to find this kind of grace in ourselves, whereas it sounds like Jenna arrived in this world overflowing with these traits already. Apparently she wrote a poem at the very young age of 12, saying “I can make a difference and a difference can make me”. Years before she was diagnosed, while she was still young and healthy, she also wrote (and published) a book about a girl in a forest who steps on a thorn and then goes on a journey of discovery to find a cure. It gives me goosebumps how prophetic all these events in her life were.
Gabbi spoke about how most of our suffering as humans is experienced when the events in our lives vary greatly from our ‘perfect ideal’. We mistakenly believe life should be easy, because movies tell us it should be, because people’s lives on social media tell us perfection is the norm. So we drift along thinking that nothing will ever go wrong, that we will always have our loved ones with us, that no one will get sick or die, that marriages won’t crumble, that our careers will rocket into the sky, that everything we touch will be a golden success. But the reality is somewhat different, and so we suffer.
The truth is that even if your life has been relatively easy up until now, it’s kind of guaranteed that it won’t always be. Grief will come. Trauma will arrive like an unwanted guest. Severe stress will slide into your days, even though you cross your fingers behind your back and hope it never will. And so we need to be equipped with the attitude and tools, to deal with these events. Does that mean living constantly afraid? No, not at all. We should live with “realistic optimism”, as Gabi puts it. But we should be prepared for when it isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, for when the darker days come, and one of the best ways to do this is to build up our resilience.
How do we do this? Along with Pippa Shaper, Gabi runs resilience workshops, which I am very interested in attending. She is also setting up resilience retreats, which sounds like a hugely beneficial way to spend a weekend. Gabi also touched on building resilience in our children in her talk, something today’s kids are sorely lacking, and I’m very keen to find out more about that and share what I learn with you guys. Because if we can give our children anything, it should be the character and tools to deal with whatever life throws at them, so they can endure life’s events, and thrive, even when we are no longer here to take care of them.
Gabi ended her presentation saying how that story was Jenna’s legacy, but what was ours? We may not all be destined to save lives, but perhaps our legacy is simply to spread happiness with our art? Or be someone that is inordinately kind, who’s kind acts encourage others to spread further kindness in our communities? Maybe it’s to make people laugh? Or to teach?
It’s made me think a lot about what my own legacy is, and it’s made me realise which parts of my life are important and worth giving attention to, and which ones are not. It’s also made me even more glad to be an existing organ donor – did you know that less than 0.3% of South Africans are organ donors? If you aren’t already one, you really should be. You don’t need your organs once you die, but you could save up to seven lives if you sign up – imagine that act being part of your legacy? Sign up here.
I was mulling all this over in the nail salon as I paged through a magazine, and thinking about the lady sitting next to me and wondering if I should write a blog post on resilience. And then I turned on to the final page of the Good Housekeeping magazine I’d picked up and stumbled on a column by Susan Hayden all about resilience: how she’d just attended a workshop run by her two friends, and I instantly knew she was talking about Gabi and Pippa. And I took that as a sign from the universe that yes I should write this post, and yes I should attend a workshop. So there you go.
Life is so precious, and it’s not always going to be easy, but after Gabi’s talk, I’m even more determined to live it with ‘realistic optimism’. So over the new few weeks I’m going to focus on these words from Jenna – and maybe you should too: