It’s downpouring. Our crew has been stuck in our heavy, yellow rain gear for hours already. We’re each sitting on our Ensolite sleeping pads, on top of our rubber gear bags, feet flat on the ground, knees bent, sitting upright. Water jugs are less than an arm’s reach away. There’s a pile of soggy trail mix scattered near some crewmates’ feet. The storm circles us intensely, lightning flashes and thunder booms within seconds of the flash. The closest person is too far away for chit-chat to help pass the time. It’s isolating and seemingly endless.
This is a lightning drill. When you’re on an Outward Bound course, you can’t run inside to hide from rain, wind, thunder or lightning. You have to do the next best thing—use your gear to protect yourself in the unlikely event that you or something near you gets struck by lightning, staying isolated from your crewmates so that if someone gets struck, you don’t all absorb the electric shock. We have to do it to stay safe, but it sucks. The best mindset to have in the lightning drill is to “embrace the suck.”
Like in a lightning drill, many of us have been faced with suck and discomfort during quarantine. There have been times when I’ve been overcome with fear, confused and riddled with worry for my family. And then there were times that I was grateful for my health and my positive relationships with my housemates and could zone out because of an episode of “The Office” I love.
Essentially, there’s been a lot going on, and nothing going on at the same time, in my head and in the world these days. Embracing the suck means stepping up and getting through because you have to. Embracing the suck takes resilience. It means trusting yourself to get through something hard and coming out stronger for it.
What fuels resilience?
Self-preservation fuels resilience. I don’t want to get struck by lightning, so I stay in a lightning drill position—waiting for the lightning storm to pass. Similarly, I want to preserve the life I had and loved before COVID-19, and I’m determined to rebuild and lead a life I’m proud of again. That starts with riding out the storm.
Productivity fuels resilience. Having something to work toward, or for, can be enough motivation to withstand the storm. Counting the seconds between the lightning flash and thunderclap is a productive way to spend a lightning drill. It gives you a sense of how close the storm is and whether it’s moving closer or farther away. At a certain interval, you know it’s safe to get out of the lightning drill and resume normal camp activity. Similarly, there are ways to be productive in quarantine. That may be showing up to your essential job, working from home, educating yourself on the news or simply washing your hands.
Compassion fuels resilience. Having someone to help can be enough motivation to wait out the lightning drill. I can’t help my crew if I’ve been struck by lightning, and I know when the storm passes I’m going to have some hungry and wet crewmates who need someone to step up and set up the stove and clothesline. Similarly, we all have community members who could benefit from our service now and in the future.
Hope fuels resilience. We know that the lightning drill ends eventually. Even Mother Earth herself shows resilience in a storm when the sun comes back out. There’s sunshine at the end of our current global crisis, too. We don’t know what the COVID-19 light will be, but the cracks in our system are showing, and light shines through cracks.
What does resilience mean right now?
Resilience is making the most of an epic lightning storm by playing a game, daydreaming, catching up on much-needed rest or even crying quietly to yourself for the duration of the storm. Ultimately, resilience is standing up when the lightning drill is over and setting up tents, a clothesline and the stove, and carrying on with what needs to happen for yourself and for those around you.
Resilience happens over time. Before we can be resilient and grow from the storm, we need to endure it. The growth that comes from it will only be evident after the wreckage hits and is slowly but persistently cleared away.
Everyone’s circumstances are different. Resilience looks different for everyone. We’re all weathering this storm differently, and we will all grow from this differently.
As we weather this storm, we wait patiently in the lightning drill position until the storm has moved far enough away and it’s safe to get up and set up camp with our crew. It takes strength to get through a storm, and it takes resilience to adapt and grow from it.
About the Author
Elizabeth Bowling is a field Instructor for the North Carolina Outward Bound School. She is based at the Scottsmoor, Florida basecamp and primarily instructs flat-water canoeing courses for at-risk youth which focus on behavior management. Elizabeth has a degree in journalism and international studies from the University of Connecticut.