When I was around thirteen years old, I began hanging out with an older guy that lived a few streets from me. Ugo was about nineteen—doggedly curious, ambitious, and full of life.
He never failed any exams, and he was, in fact, the best graduating student in his high school. His other friends will often tell me they’d never seen anyone like him. They would emphasize how easily he assimilates a mathematical theory and how he’d compose hard essays with speed and elegance they could only dream of.
Several months passed before I met his cousin, Chike, and in one of our series of playtimes that later turned into a heart-wrenching conversation, he mentioned that Ugo was a quintessential survivor. He continued to narrate stories of how his cousin managed to endure so much at an early age.
Ugo had lived through at least three challenges in life. At home, his mother was diagnosed with a particular condition that left her incapacitated. His father, who was the breadwinner, was murdered by robbers, and Ugo, as a young man, was in the room when it happened. His sister, on the other hand, moved out of their home and refuses to return back.
Ugo and I always hung out at a nearby sports bar where we’d play snooker games, so I never got a chance to visit his home or learn about his family until the day I met his cousin. Ugo never mentioned his adversities to me or showed any signs of weakness as a result of it. He was someone I wanted to be like.
Despite all this—or maybe because of it—he developed a mental strength that was essential for his survival. He faced life head-on transforming his adversities into an enjoyable challenge in both his academic and social life.
Why do some people face such life-altering hardships and never falter, I often ask myself?
Ugo, as a young man, could have reacted differently. We’ve all seen that happen: Bouncing back after divorce takes several years for some people; another person may find it difficult to regain confidence after a layoff; another may lose their business due to the COVID-19 crisis and find it very discouraging to start afresh. Some people will fall into mood swings because they can’t leave their homes, thereby creating an unhappy environment for their families.
What exactly is that quality of resilience, as seen in Ugo, that carries people through life?
The simple answer is that resilient people are optimistic in the face of adversity. They don’t easily slip into mood swings or depression as a coping mechanism for difficulty. Instead, they embrace reality and device constructs about their suffering to create meaning for themselves and others.
COVID-19 has brought pain and uncertainty for all of us. Let us refuse to take the hardship as victims, but rather as an opportunity to re-evaluate ourselves, fix our marriages and relationships, and, more important, learn more about our children.
Resilience is a skill that we can consciously learn, and in no small degree, can determine if we will succeed or fail. I believe we can all bounce back from COVID-19 grief by accepting the reality and using the experience to build ourselves up and make meaning from it.