Resilience in war and old age

Photo of a serious young woman in a black skivvy, long hair tied back. We need resilience in war and old age.
Dr Alia Bojilova showed resilience in a war zone, as we do in old age.

Resilience is needed in war and old age: this is a new insight for me. I was listening to a Radio NZ interview with Dr Alia Bojilova, a psychologist and previous officer with New Zealand’s Special Air Service. Ten years ago she was, with two colleagues, taken hostage in a war zone and talked her way out of it within hours. I was struck by how closely her analysis of resilience resembled the modus operandi of Mrs Doris Carnevali, a blogger in her late nineties. Their recent life styles could hardly be more different, and yet they have one mighty trait in common: resilience.

Everything rhymes with “old”. Even resilience!

What fosters resilience?

Dr Bojilova has identified four factors that lead to resilience, and she and Mrs Carnevali share them all. I’ll just mention a couple that I remember from the interview. Then I’ll read the book, The Resilience Toolkit, and maybe you will too.

Red book cover with black and white text: The Resilience Toolkit. A proven four-step process to unlock your true potential. Dr Alia Bojilova

The crucial link between curiosity and resilience

Dr B: “No matter the situation, there is always something little we can do to improve our predicament. To journey intentionally as opposed to be a victim from the start.” This describes Mrs C’s approach to life perfectly. She has not been kidnapped at gunpoint, no. But almost every day experiences some age-related change that hinders her from doing some ordinary activity. Over the five years of her blog, Mrs C. records encountering multiple new and difficult situations, and finding “something little she could do to improve her predicament.” Curiosity is at the forefront: Exactly what was going wrong? And exactly what could she do about it?

Mrs C: “I am a 95-year-old woman who was coasting along with the flow of life and then one day thought,’I wonder what difference it would make if I were to engage actively with the process of aging. Scrutinize the details. Interact with it differently.’ And that’s just what I began to do. I called this new process of scrutiny and response engaging with aging, and it began to add zest, intrigue, and comedy to life.”

Keep your self-respect in war and old age

Dr B. also spoke about self-respect as an important component of resilience. Try to keep your dignity, which starts with self-esteem. How very difficult this must be when you are lying in the dust at gun-point β€” or when your hands are not strong enough to cut up your own food at the dinner table, or you can’t hear what’s being said, or you can’t put on your shoes.

Mrs C. blogged on several occasions about her struggles to maintain self esteem, credibility, personal dignity. As always, she brings curiosity (and clarity) to the problem and finds various ways to “improve her predicament”. She has repeatedly shown resilience β€” not at war but in extreme old age.

These are just two points I recall, and now I’m keen to get the big picture.

Because when I’m 95, like Mrs Carnevali when she started her blog about “engaging with aging”, I will need resilience by the truckload. I’ve been learning from Mrs Carnevali for several years. Now I will learn from Dr Bojilova what I’ve learned and what I still need to learn.

Resilience of our elders in The Secret Lives of Extremely Old People

The 12 nonagenarians that I interviewed for my new play also showed this character trait of resilience. They were dealing with all sorts of very difficult physical, emotional, and mental conditions. Dealing with them! That was a phrase that kept coming up. Bereavement, cancer, poverty, spinal stenosis, family tragedies β€” they spoke of these hard conditions almost casually, stoically. Life brings troubles: you deal with them.

Can you contribute to our new play honouring our elders? Please?

We do need help right now. If you like the work I do, independently or with The 90 Plus Group, please consider contributing a little. Thank you!

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11 thoughts on “Resilience in war and old age

  1. Yes, resilience is the key

  2. What a marvelous observation!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I think it’s fascinating.

  3. Sadje says:

    Very important points Rachel. Thanks for sharing

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      It struck me like a going!

      1. Sadje says:


  4. You need resilience to make it to old age!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Very true, Kate. I’m working on it.

  5. josaiawrites says:

    Resilience is a superpower. As is kindness, including kindness towards ourselves.
    I am working on learning to truly acknowledge the changes that aging brings, invite grief to sit beside me as it becomes an ever more frequent partner as the losses continue, and have an outrageous sense of humor about it all. That doesn’t mean that there won’t many tears…. That’s also part of the journey. Bittersweet. Poignant. And so very wondrous, this brief life that we are given…..

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I respect your approach. There is no end to our learning as life throws us new challenges at every stage. I see you using that essential curiosity to ask yourself, now wait, how can I make this a little bit better?

  6. Elizabeth says:

    I think we choose between resilience and resignation. Those seem to be the major choices in old age. Of course, I choose resilience and look forward to the new challenges and delights sure to lie ahead.

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