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Growing Resilience

Season’s greetings! Did you notice the holiday decorations
on display before Halloween? (Never mind
Thanksgiving!) Soon the Christmas cards will arrive.

In 1974, a man named Phillip Kunz sent 600
Christmas greetings, including a short handwritten note
or a family photo. He received responses from more than 200.
This outcome might seem disappointing, until you realize he
didn’t know any of these people; he randomly selected names
from the phone book. Even more astonishing, he continued to
receive cards from some of these total strangers for 15 years.

It was all part of an experiment for Kunz, a Brigham Young
University sociologist, who wanted to study a social behavior
known as the rule of reciprocation (we feel a sense of obligation
to give back to others who have given to us).

Don’t you wonder if the same experiment would turn out differently
today? If it’s true that people send fewer cards, it’s less
likely they’d reciprocate so readily. Yet, the holiday season is so
hectic that we often go through the motions on automatic pilot.

Does it seem the daily headlines distract you from the serenity
of the season, and it gets harder to filter out the inconsequential?
Do you need a boost to catapult you into a celebratory spirit?

The weather in 2013 left a highly visible mark on many farm
communities. September’s deadly floodwaters in Colorado destroyed
the corn harvest, along with silage and feed for cattle,
as well as irrigation systems. For some wheat growers, it also
eased the drought.

On October 4, families in
northeastern Nebraska and
northwest Iowa were left
picking up the pieces of their
lives after a dozen tornadoes
ripped through the region.
A day earlier, South
Dakota producers were
socked by a cattle-killing
October blizzard.

Not to be forgotten, many
farmers suffered a second
consecutive year of drought.
In agriculture, we think
we’re accustomed to weather
disasters. However, experts
warn that climate shifts will
spawn recurring weather
extremes. No doubt future
generations of farmers will
have to cultivate new varieties
of inner resilience: the
ability to recover readily and
adaptafterillness, depression,
or adversity.

But personal tragedies
supercede the losses of farm
property and assets. Almost
every week there are senseless
shootings. In 2013,
the brutality of the world muscled its way into my rural turf.

A 15-year-old girl walking home from school was kidnapped
and killed at a site only a few miles from my farm. To the south
10 miles, domestic violence claimed the life of a young woman,
leaving two children without a mom and their father in prison.

I think of the young man killed in a snowmobile overturn,
and the life-threatening illnesses and diseases afflicting friends
and family. I think of the fragility of life, the harsh realities of
Mother Nature, the inability to protect loved ones.

In her book, Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and
, Anne Lamott tries to sort it out. “Most of us have figured
out that we have to do what’s in front of us and keep doing it,”
she writes. “We clean up beaches after oil spills. We rebuild
whole towns after hurricanes and tornadoes. We return calls and
library books. We get people water. Some of us even pray. ... In
the aftermath of loss, we do what we’ve always done, although
we are changed, maybe more afraid. We
do what we can, as well as we can.”

It’s all about resilience. How do we sow
the seeds that grow greater resilience?

1. Develop strong social and community
networks to build reserves of social capital.

2. Be an unshakable optimist and have
faith in the meaning of life.

3. Get in the habit of helping others and
be willing to seek help when you need it.

4. Find healthy ways to cope with stress.

“You start wherever you can,” Lamott writes. “You see a great
need, so you thread a needle, you tie a knot in your thread. You
find one place in the cloth through which to take one stitch, one
simple stitch, nothing fancy, just one that’s strong and true. The
knot will anchor your thread. Once that’s done, you take one
more stitch ...”

And so it's not surprising that a group of ranchers created
Heifers for South Dakota. Working with others in 10 states,
they’re collecting donations. Ty Linger, Miles City, Montana, says
they’ve delivered 500 replacement heifers. Monetary donations
also can be made at or the Facebook
page, Heifers for S. Dakota. Call Linger at 406/351-3716.

Good enough again

Recovery is a slow process, and it may help to remember
Lamott's analogy of darning eggs. “Darning is to send
parallel threads through the damage in socks and sweaters,
in and out, in and out, back and forth, over and under, and
somehow, you have a piece of fabric again – such as the heel
of a sock – that’s good enough again, against all odds,” she
writes. “This is sort of a miracle – good enough again. ... it
definitely helps to have a darning egg as you go through life.
Trust me on this.”

So, we count our blessings and name them
one by one: weddings, anniversaries, birthdays,
graduations, cancers in remission, and reconnected
friends. We decorate our homes, help stage
the Sunday School pageant, bake cookies, place
wreaths on loved ones’ graves. We draw near to
one another and savor the season.

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