Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 10, 2014

A lesson plan for the coming year


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — As the year ended and the next began, I found myself thinking not about resolutions I wanted to make but lessons I learned in 2013 and want to learn in 2014.    

It’s common in our household to admit that staying focused, retaining new information and applying what we’ve learned is a greater challenge than it used to be. Anyone who has suffered a loss or is recovering from trauma knows well the impact on thought process and brain function.

Add to life experience my life stage as a peri-menopausal woman and day-to-day function can be quite an adventure. I rarely remember anything without my smart phone alerting me. I frequently find myself starting an article at the halfway point because I don’t know if I can stay with it from beginning to end. I misplace my keys and bills regularly, have lost one pair of eyeglasses and a checkbook permanently, and lose my mind occasionally.

So reviewing some of my favorite lessons from 2013 is a productive exercise to help me remember the lessons. It also reminds me about columns I’ve already written so I won’t write columns with too-similar subjects, another mental malfunction I discovered while researching this column.

• I’ve learned you can change your mind about important and delicate matters, so it’s best to keep it open. I wrote about my family changing our minds in regard to the final resting place for my eldest daughter. Sometimes the only certainty in the grieving process is the uncertainty. But when it feels right, you know it and can cling to it — without judgment from you or from others.

• I was inspired and amazed by the resilience Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard both displayed last year, especially in the days following the discovery of three women who had been held captive for a decade by an Ohio man-monster.

Instead of dodging the memories this may have dredged up, they stood up publicly, took some of the glaring and burning hot light off the women who needed privacy, and offered themselves like a defensive lineman protecting the more vulnerable quarterback. I assume years of intensive therapy, intentional spiritual healing and attentive physical strengthening left them strong enough to stand guard for their sisters in Ohio. Findings indicate that a number of factors promote resilience. Among them: seeking help, dealing with stress effectively and in a healthy manner, having good problem-solving skills, believing that there is something one can do to manage ones feelings and cope, social support and connection to family or friends, disclosing the trauma to loved ones, spirituality, having an identity as a survivor as opposed to a victim, helping others, and, I think most importantly, finding positive meaning in the trauma.

• The disciple Peter is the perfect example of second chances, which everyone requires and should be given. He denied Christ after being the first disciple to proclaim his faith. Jesus knew that we’d need to see someone who obviously loved him also fail him. He knew that we’d need to see someone bold and brazen suddenly become cowardly and craven. He knew we’d need to see someone get a second chance — because he knew we’d need that second chance, that do-over, ourselves.

• I’ve noticed that sometimes the bully isn’t next to you in class or in the next cubicle. The bully isn’t texting you or commenting on Instagram or Twitter. Sometimes the bully is in the mirror and in your head. And, a new study revealed last year, the most damaging bully may be in the bedroom next to yours. Bullying by brothers and sisters has been linked to increased depression, anxiety and anger among the victimized kids and teens. Our society battles bullying at school but the study says that harassment at home has typically been viewed as “benign and normal and even beneficial” for a child’s social development and ability “to learn to handle aggression in other relationships.” It’s time to bring into focus bullying both at home and at school.

• For whatever reason, some of us forget that fun not only lifts our immediate mood but buoys our emotions to carry us through the rougher waters. Fun is like an electrical impulse that zaps your brain, stimulating you to think and feel beyond the necessary drudgery of everyday tasks. Fun renews your heart and soul. “It is through play that we do much of our learning,” writes Dr. Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D., an internationally recognized authority on brain development and children in crisis. “We learn best when we are having fun.”

• Several months ago, I asked a mother how she lived her life differently after her 26-year-old son died by suicide. “I lived a fuller life,” she answered. “I stopped saying, ‘One day I’ll do this or that.’ I started doing it. I went back to school and changed careers. I travel more. I live a more full life in his honor.”

That is the lesson I want to learn and apply in 2014. I want to retrain my brain to think more clearly, set new goals and aspire to develop new talents, and I want to live a more full life while honoring the part of it that will always and achingly be missing.

Rather than resolving to do this or that, learning from last year and being intentional about learning this year may create a happier new year.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who writes about faith, family and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. She lives in North Carolina with her family. Contact her at jdesmond@bdtonline.com.