My sister Ann is a breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed in 2007, has been in remission since 2008. But recently, a full two years being pronounced healthy, she had herself a good freakout.
Here’s the sitch: she wanted to swim laps at the Open Swim Hour at her local high school, and didn’t want to be seen changing in the girls’ locker room. The problem? The scars from her bilateral mastectomy. Don’t get me wrong—she had reconstructive surgery, so from five paces away she looks perfectly normal. But that scrawny hairline scar still stretches from one side of her ribcage to the other. Uber-dramatic up close. Like in a locker room.
“Girls that age just don’t understand,” she told me. “They still think you can be perfect.”
I nodded and made noises like I agreed, but five minutes after I left her, realized that she was dreading the judgment of teenage girls as much as she dreaded chemo. Huh. Something was definitely off.
I kept going back our conversation when Readergirlz asked me to blog about resilience. Believe me, I’d much rather write about things that invoke a different kind of response, like moose drool. Or donuts. (Or, as my daughter would add, moose drool *on* donuts. She gets a kick out of stuff like that.)
But it seems to me there’s a nugget in my sister’s dread that’s worth exploring. Because I think the issue of teenage judgment—both real and imagined—has more to do with resilience than it would first appear. I’m thinking of my sister’s scars, but I’m also thinking of Spirit Day this past October 20, and the glut of teen suicides in the wake of bullying. When I was listening to NPR last week, a commentator was talking about this subject and mentioned that, while some of the bullied suicides were gay, not all of them were. The common denominator was that they were perceived to be different.
It seems to me that a major component of resilience is tolerance, both in yourself and the people around you. If you’re going through an episode in your life where you have to be strong, it’s important to find someone who, if they can’t identify with what you’re going through, can at least imagine going through it. Those tolerant, understanding buddies? They may not be the ones you think.
In The River, my heroine, Veronica Severance, makes a series of mistakes along those lines. At the beginning of the book, she’s judgmental of the people around her, thinking that since she’s a transplant from the city, she’s better than her neighbors in the country. Ya-huh. You just know attitude can’t continue.
Secondly, she’s drawn to people based on the way they dress and their taste in music. And yes, in real life those things can really endear someone to you, but they don’t go deep enough to tell you about their true character. It’s no accident that, in order to see the truth about the people around her, Veronica has to be submerged in something that’s much more treacherous than it looks on the surface. Surfaces can lie.
So that’s about it. If you’re in need of resilience, I’m with you. Stay strong. Practice tolerance and seek out tolerant buddies. Veronica’s mother would also tell you that comfort food helps, and to be sure to enjoy a donut now and then.
But please, for my sake, hold the moose drool.
- Mary Jane Beaufrand