08 Nov 2012

Honoring Resilience


I would love to live
Like a river flows
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding.

– John O’Donohue



I would love to flow like a river, yet I am tossed mercilessly by a mighty storm surge.  Hurricane Sandy has unleashed suffering and loss, fear and uncertainty, anger and desperation. Hearts break at what many communities along the Atlantic Coast face in Sandy’s wake. Yet following  loss of life, homes, and communities, hopes arise for rebuilding.

At Gray Is Green we honor resilience and embrace the possibilities for change that arise from courageous response to ecologically challenged times and places.  Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast comes on the heels of the warmest year on record, including a historic drought in the Midwest and devastating forest fires in the West.  Emerging weather patterns affect hundreds of millions of people now, and will continue to face our children and grandchildren for decades, perhaps centuries to come.  Our humanity is strained and we cast about for ways to respond.

“Resilience” has appeal as the notion that people, communities and systems might adapt to chronic change with  creativity and flexibility. I see resilience as a kind of dance responding to life’s unexpected turns of fate, as well as a pragmatic wisdom in the face of chronic change.  Resilience may be distilled from the curiosity to ask: How are we to live now?

I was inspired by Andrew Zolli’s November 2nd New York Times op-ed, “Learning  to Bounce Back”:  Where sustainability aims to put the world back into balance, resilience looks for ways to manage in an imbalanced world.  It’s a broad-spectrum agenda that, at one end, seeks to imbue our communities, institutions and infrastructure with greater flexibility, intelligence and responsiveness to extreme events and, at the other, centers on bolstering people’s psychological and physiological capacity to deal with high-stress circumstances.” (emphasis added)

How fortunate that personal resilience is often a hallmark of advancing age.  Over the past 5 years at Gray Is Green, we have met older Americans around the country who are transforming residential communities into “green” enclaves,  re-imagining clusters of private residences as “villages” and re-inventing retirements as environmentally inspired “encore” ventures.  All of these efforts and activities are arising among older Americans who are facing squarely the realities of our ecological challenges, changing the way we live while changing the way they age—managing in an imbalanced world.

We know from anthropology and history that, for much of the time our species has been on Earth, the best thinking about how to adapt to major changes, to the most fearsome events, often came from the elders, from those who had lived, survived and reflected on the community’s  most disruptive changes.  Our species has been well served by the process of honoring elderhood as a life stage that provides wisdom for community resilience.  So it is a remarkable benefit to have a longevity revolution unfolding alongside our generational challenge for social, economic and ecological resilience.


At Gray Is Green we are evoking and gathering the wisdom of older Americans in the face of ecological challenges.

Midst the perennial vulnerabilities of old age are contemporary challenges to how we live now—at all ages.  The possibility for wise reflection in response to these challenges is a gift of age. That gift is made real when older adults reflect on the ways they have already adapted to challenges ranging from war, recession, political turmoil and extreme weather events to the everyday challenges of raising children, managing households, growing businesses, inventing technologies, leading communities and organizations, providing legal, medical, financial, environmental, and social services—simply showing up for life and work, day after day, year after year.  In the words of  Diane Mariechild:  Trust that still, small voice that says, “This might work and I’ll try it.”


Reflect and glean, then share the wisdom–post your stories of resilience to Gray Is Green.


More from Andrew Zolli:  “…psychologists, sociologists and neuroscientists are uncovering a wide array of factors that make you more or less resilient than the person next to you: the reach of your social networks, the quality of your close relationships, your access to resources, your genes and health, your beliefs and habits of mind.

[The World]… exists in a constant disequilibrium — trying, failing, adapting, learning and evolving in endless cycles. Indeed, it’s the failures, when properly understood, that create the context for learning and growth. That’s why some of the most resilient places are, paradoxically, also the places that regularly experience modest disruptions: they carry the shared memory that things can go wrong.

“Resilience” … is commensurately humble. It doesn’t propose a single, fixed future. It assumes we don’t know exactly how things will unfold, that we’ll be surprised, that we’ll make mistakes along the way. It’s also open to learning from the extraordinary and widespread resilience of the natural world, including its human inhabitants…”

We are more resilient when we respond together, learn from nature, then employ the gifts of the whole community and honor the needs of diverse members.  In the coming weeks and months you will hear from our Board President, Rick Moody, and others on a wide range of topics and issues of importance to our growing network of friends and supporters.  Send your stories and post your comments—we invite you into these conversations.






  1. Jan Hively Says: November 8, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    You may be interested in the guide for convening Resilience Circles that is found on http://www.localcircles.org Sarah Byrne and Chuck Collins with the Institute of Policy Studies in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston have been organizing Resilience Circles. The process would probably work well for Gray is Green groups.

    Great website!!!

Comments are closed.