Resilience, hurricanes and trees

Resilience is a key word in education nowadays. Many people have lost their resilience. They live short sighted lives. They live for the now. They look for what works now. Much of society has lost an appreciation for what is good for our overall development, if it is infact not nice for me now.

When I grew up stories of the refiners fire, the miry clay and the potter's wheel were regular reminders that there are processes that we go through that are purposeful in making us a better person. Processes and times which challenge and stretch us. I did not know it then but these were processes that helped me grow resilience.

In 2004 Bron and I experienced a Category 5 Hurricane while teaching in the Cayman Islands. While at the time of the disaster and aftermath we spent much time reflecting on the things in our lives which were truly of value. However as I look back now, there is a lesson to be learnt from the trees.


After the storm, many of the trees on the island had toppled over, but not all. Some, although stripped bare of leaves from the wind remained standing tall and strong. Interestingly a remarkable observation of the fallen trees was that they had not all fallen in the same direction. Some had fallen to the east, some to the south and others to the west.

Why was this?

As Hurricane Ivan passed by the islands the direction of the wind, relative to any one position, changed. As the hurricane headed towards the Cayman Islands from Jamaica the wind blew from the south. Fortunately, this wind was not strong enough to force any trees over. However, the storm came closer and eventually was directly below us and the wind now blew from the west. As it went past the islands it changed direction and headed to the north. The wind came from the north and then on its way out, as the storm left us, the wind blew from the east.

Some trees fell at the first sign of strong winds. At this stage the wind was blowing from the west, so the trees fell in an easterly direction. Other trees fell when the wind increased in speed and blew from the north, these trees toppled towards the South. Yet the saddest part of the observation is that some trees fell when the winds were subsiding, the hurricane was leaving but the wind changed to the east. These easterly winds saw the trees fall to the west. The storm was dying but it was just too much, after withstanding the winds from the south, west and the strongest winds from the north, the attack from the east, even though lighter proved to be too much for some.

So why did some trees stay standing after the storm while some fell in different stages of the storm?

There were two main attributes that determined the survival rate of the trees. Firstly, their ability to adjust, move and flex in the storm. Trees who refused to move lost limbs and were more likely to fall than those who did nothing and stayed stagnant. Secondly, the depth of their roots and what type of soil they were rooted in. Many of the trees rooted in the sandy soil (sounds like a parable) fell.


The trees which did stay standing had much in common. The soil which they were planted was firm. The ’type’ of tree, it's DNA - the family of trees they belong to helped predict its survival. Interestingly, trees who had previously been exposed to high winds had a greater chance of survival and lastly, most of the trees in the local forest/bush survived. They were sheltered by other trees.

When we consider our student's resilience factor there are many parallels to the success predictors for trees. The soil which our children is planted in is what they believe about the world around them, their worldview. The DNA or 'type’ is linked to their family. The forest they live in is to do with the support that they have around them is critical in building resilience. And their exposure to difficult circumstances in the past helps them face difficult times ahead.

The stronger the mix of the above factors the stronger our children develop.

Resilience is understanding that it is the difficult times that bring maturity and strength. Nothing is strong till proven strong.

A few very good verses that help us understand and develop resilience:

Job 1:21-22 and exclaimed: “I left my mother’s womb naked, and I will return to God naked. The LORD has given, and the LORD has taken. May the name of the LORD be blessed.” Job neither sinned nor charged God with wrongdoing in all of this.

Habakkuk 3:17-18 Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

Philippians 4:13 I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Whatever happens, give thanks, because it is God’s will in Christ Jesus that you do this.


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