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Army teaches Guardian editor to find silver linings

CHRISTY GRAHAM
The Guardian

I’m not sure that I could ever pick the single greatest lesson I learned from my time in the Army. Teamwork, communication, integrity — these are a few that I know I would name. Another, the one I’d like to focus on, deals with resiliency. The Army taught me to always find the silver lining, regardless of the situation.

Early morning physical training, for the most part, wasn’t a bummer for me. I enjoy working out, so it was never the bane of my existence. But, I’m not perfect. There were nights where I stayed up late and found myself far too exhausted for a run the following morning. In those moments, I’d remind myself that the Army was the only career where “playing outside with my friends” was a part of my job. Granted, the standard 4-mile run and tire PT wasn’t exactly a playdate, but I had the mental skills to view them that way, and I benefitted from those perspective shifts.

During our latest nights working in the motorpool, catching up on overdue services, we would all pitch in and order pizza. I called these our pizza parties, despite the saddening lack of streamers and balloons. At first, my fellow mechanics were probably a little peeved by my positivity; but in the end, I think we all realized that we were lucky to work in a group that felt like family. We knew that the only way that was possible — that familial feeling — was from the late nights and extra time we spent working with each other and getting to know each other at our best and our worst. 

Being exposed to cold weather, however, is a harder moment for me to find that silver lining. I loathe feeling cold. At some point, it becomes physically painful and nothing but time and warmth can fix that. During a weapons qualification event in basic training, it happened to storm the entire day. We were wet and growing colder by each passing moment. I remember being in an unsupported prone position with my weapon, shivering while I had to blow water out of my iron site between each shot. I know that all of my emotions were on display during that qualification — I likely had the meanest looking mug on the range. I was upset at the rain for making the event harder and colder. 

It wasn’t until the next day that I found the positive aspect in that situation; and yes, it is better late than never. Not only did I still manage to qualify despite the inconveniences from the weather, but I had my first gritty basic training experience. I got down into the mud, withstood the coldness, focused my breathing to still my shivering and my shot and I did what Soldiers are meant to do — overcome and meet standards. All throughout training, I was waiting for a single moment to make me feel like a Soldier, and I believe that was one of the first junctures that had me feeling like I could fill the boots I had been issued. Had we qualified on a perfectly clear day, I may not have had that critical moment in my growth as a Soldier. 

I’ve been out of the Army for a little over six years, and those mental ninja skills are still a habit. Today, as I continue to survive and work during another day of quarantine, I’m relying heavily on those skills. While working on another article for work, my eldest kids (Lucine, 6; and Levi, 3) decided that they not only needed to be right next to mom, but they also needed to have a wrestling match. 

There was no convincing them that they should probably find another spot in the house to play. They were adamant that they missed me — even though we’ve been locked in our house for nearly a week — and they needed to play near me. I didn’t have the spare time to stop my work project each time I needed the kids to listen, so I endeavored to find the silver lining and hope that it helped me overcome. In that moment, I chose to tell myself that at least my selective listening skills were getting better. At the beginning of our quarantine, I had a hard time concentrating with the sound of “Frozen” playing in the background; in just a few days, I felt like I had gotten far better at avoiding the endless distractions. I was managing to maintain my output, and I continued to manage the inconveniences in front of me. 

One of the harder quarantine pills to swallow has been the amount of television my kids have watched. I know this might sound a little silly, but I focus a lot of energy on keeping my kids entertained with healthier activities. TV may not be the worst thing in the world, but I didn’t intend on hiring it as my quarantine babysitter. I started to feel pretty defeated as a mother. Between giving my husband the time he needed to rest, keeping the house from exploding with toys and getting my work done, I sometimes found myself relying on screen time for my kids. 

Where was my silver lining now? How could I even feel okay about looking for that silver lining with this one? First, I had to remind myself that it was good for my mental health to find a positive in the situation. Being honest with myself is important, but I didn’t need to berate myself over the shortcoming. Secondly, always looking for the good is a behavior I want to model for my kids: I want them to know they can always look for the bright side.

Ultimately, it boiled down to picking movies and shows about which I felt good. If I couldn’t be there to cuddle them as they watched something, then I put on a show where it taught positive socialization skills or had some academic theme. The show “Super Why” is an example of one of my go-to shows that emphasize literacy. If the day was coming to an end, I was exhausted and we had a bit of time before bedtime stories, then I picked movies that I felt were important for me to share with my kids — classics that no kid should go without watching. Titles like “The Princess Bride” and “The Never Ending Story” were some that we covered during quarantine. Not only did we engage during the movie, but the kids loved them so much they continued to ask questions for days after the viewing. So, maybe I could look over and see the zombie-like TV eyes a few times during quarantine, but I also built some great memories with my kids. I think I can feel pretty good about that.  

I’ll be the first to admit it; some of my silver linings are probably pretty stretched out and thin, but I still found them, and they helped. Also, I’d like to underscore a few other major positive aspects, such as the fact that I’m still able to work during this pandemic and, despite my husband not feeling well, no one is in the hospital. We have been able to manage at home; we might be looking forward to the day we can return to some normalcy, but we are still together and still overcoming.