My Chinese grandmother survived three wars by the time she was 30. Doctors told her she would never have children, and yet she ended up having five. She raised her kids for many years on her own, utilizing the medical degree she earned in the 1940s in China. Medical school didn’t only afford grandma knowledge, but was one of the few places where there was food during the war. Grandma Yang rarely talked about the horrible things she endured. She loved in acts of service, but mom always wished grandma had shared more of her wisdom. For that reason, my mom has always felt it was important to share her own tips for resilience with those around her.
Throughout my life, I always saw my mom as powerful and respected. She started out at Estée Lauder, and held a high powered job at Avon as art director for nearly a decade. She later became her own boss. But her personal life was different. In her marriage, she admits she never thought she’d survive without my dad. Now years later, she joyfully knows she was wrong. She’s honest that becoming her best self was a process that blossomed after heartbreak.
The perennial life advice that my mother has shared is especially relevant during a pandemic. Here are a few of her lessons that are helping me cope with the challenging time we’re facing today:
1. Sometimes the worst thing that happened to you can be the best thing.
Facing a challenging time can also be an opportunity to learn about yourself or others even through pain, loss, and disappointment. Divorce was my mother’s personal rock bottom. But still, after divorce, she truly found her best, empowered self. Now Vivia Horn relishes challenges and loves honing her resilience. She has become so proactive and independent spiritually and financially. Being on her own, taught my mom to find her own joy, fulfillment, and creativity. She realized she loved being single and that she wanted a man in her life, but certainly didn’t need one. Mom always reminds me that it’s important to have the courage to leave a bad situation or relationship, and no matter how bad things get, there are always silver linings somewhere if you look deeply enough. For me, at the moment, it’s living with my dad for the first time since I was fifteen — reveling in his old army anecdotes, his delicious cooking, and the tiny unspoken ways he expresses his love. No matter what, I’m determined to make a bouquet of silver linings right now for the future.
2. Don’t wait until problems escalate.
That leaky faucet can turn into a flood if you don’t act quickly. Mom became a problem solver after recognizing that small issues would magnify if you put them off for too long; she says this is important whether repairing a house or between people: issues in our relationships and for our health. A cavity left too long can later become a root canal. This pause order has been an ideal time for all of us to take stock of the things or people we shouldn’t put off until later, and prioritize the time we have now.
3. There’s always a solution. To get to it, you may just have to think outside of the box.
I call mom ‘Momma MacGyver’ because she can fix or build anything. In high school, she made her own clothes. She once built us a couch in two hours out of twelve dollars worth of leftover plywood and pillows she upholstered herself. When I arrived at college, my rubber doorstop went missing. The door locked itself so we needed a quick substitute. Mom tied a tight string to the wall, looped it around my door handle, and that little string held my door open the rest of my freshman year. She was living proof that solutions don’t need to cost a lot or be high-tech to be effective.
4. Do your best and let God do the rest.
Because my mom is so do-it-yourself and in control, learning to surrender was a big step. She always taught us to do everything you can and recognize when it’s time to wait, be patient, or let go of the outcome. She also taught me to leave space for miracles to happen. We put so much pressure on ourselves to perform or gain a desired result, but if as mom says the worst thing can still be the best, it’s enough to do what you can and let the rest fall into place. This seems particularly relevant as we quarantine with so much still unknown. My wise, resilient mom says if you trust and don’t give up, life has a way of working itself out in the end. The one thing my grandma told my mom about surviving war was, “I always believed I would overcome.”
5. If you’re not happy, don’t be afraid to speak up.
Walking with two canes, it can be exhausting waiting in line. Fortunately, most places in the U.S., I have the ability or right to cut the lines as an accommodation. Still, I never wanted make a scene or not stand with everyone else. But my headstrong mom would never hesitate to say, sometimes at the top of her lungs, “My daughter needs to come through!” She is never apologetic about the space she holds in a room. And she always encourages others to be their authentic self and speak their truth. Now, when I need to advocate for something important in my community like adequate healthcare, equitable transportation, or employment, during the pandemic, I channel my mother and use my power — my voice. Sometimes, saying a righteous “no” feels so much better than a weak or purposeless “yes.”
I have not one tenth of my mom’s or grandma’s talents and natural instinct for survival. I can’t sew, cook, and I’m not a doctor — but as I move through life, I try to remember that their blood flows through my veins, and I draw on their powerful examples for strength. The truth is, we can all harness the mothers and women we admire anytime we choose, and take them with us to any of life’s battles — including the one we’re facing right now.