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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 7-1-22 – A Front Row Seat to Human Resiliency

“Man, unlike any other thing organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, and emerges ahead of his accomplishments.” ― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

A few weeks back, Julie and I watched a documentary about a bike ride that followed the route of Dust Bowl migrants during the Great Depression as depicted in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. The movie was called The Bikes of Wrath. As noted on the IMDB description:

“In 2015 five friends from Australia set out to bike from Oklahoma to California the same route the families traveled in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. The friends did this on a budget of just $420 which is the equivalent to the $18 each family had on average that made the same trek during the dust bowl. They were overwhelmed by the generosity of the people in the states they biked through which are known as Red States. During the editing process of the documentary, they realized this trek was more about the people they met than the actual trek.”

It is the same in life. As a person of the trek of life, I have experienced it is all about the people I meet along the way. Read this literally or metaphorically in life, it works both ways. One of the things I get to do is travel around Pennsylvania and beyond and talk with a lot of people who are working to get own their lives back on track and to help others to do the same. It had been a large part of my job for the last ten years. Prior to that, I spent thousands of hours over the course of two and a half decades sitting in small rooms, working with people individually and in small groups to help them change their lives in ways that brought them restored hope, a sense of meaning, and purpose moving forward.

Beyond my own recovery, that last point is easily the most influential thing in my life. I have spent a lot of my life actively listening to people and trying to help them achieve what they wanted to do with their lives as they came to terms with addiction and began to form a life focused on recovery. It is perhaps the greatest honor and responsibility of my time on earth to experience the diversity of people who I have had the privilege of working with over these many years.

I suspect through my life’s work; I have learned as much as I have helped or perhaps. Perhaps frequently more so. It has taught me about the diversity of experience and perspectives we all have. It has taught me to be slow to judge and to show empathy and compassion. Race, gender, culture, political affiliation, religious belief, and socioeconomic class are all huge factors in what shapes us, as is trauma and the eras and communities we were raised in. We have no idea what those around us have come through. We need to remain ever cognizant of this. We make so many mistakes when we judge a book by its cover, because the cover we see is more a reflection of our own biases than what is in the pages underneath that jacket.

Such vast differences people have, but also a whole lot of common ground. Everyone wants to feel heard. People want to pursue meaningful goals and make sense of their own life experiences. Traveling across Pennsylvania, I have found very different communities, each with strengths and resources that those communities were the experts at harnessing most effectively. And in each community here in Pennsylvania and beyond, I have found small groups of people eager to improve their own lives and the lives of those who live and work around them. Good people doing great things.

It has been tremendously rewarding to spend time with people so very focused on their own healing and the healing of their communities. There are so many good people hiding in plain sight all around us! Often, as the Bikes of Wrath movie depicted, it is the people who have the least who are the most generous, most probably because they are most in tune with what such generosity means to both those who give and those who receive.

Spending so much of my time immersed in such efforts have certainly shaped my life for the better. It has also served as a counterbalance to the dominant discourse in our society, which tends to be on pain, suffering, division, and anger. At least on the news and on social media. Seeing such community with my own eyes has certainly taught me that we rarely get the whole story, and that often, we gloss over the parts where people get better and focus on the more dramatic stories. The media adage of “if it bleeds it leads” is actually a reflection on what we pay attention to as a people. Of course, we would be better off to look for the silver linings in all things.

In the last month, I worked in several regions across Pennsylvania with recovery communities and was invited to Kentucky to support their statewide recovery community efforts. I am struck by how resilient people can be. I have found resilient and energetic people focused on healing everywhere I go. In a world in pain, I am grateful to have a front row seat to human resiliency. I am grateful to be reminded on a daily basis that people can be amazing, people can be resilient, and people can be selfless and good. What are you grateful for today?

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