This is how I remember it.
Via Borneo Adventure I’d been trekking in the highlands of Borneo with the Penan, a hush-voiced nomadic tribe. For the last few days we’d clambered over logs and slogged thigh deep through wetlands. The sky was so far above the tangled tree canopy it seemed we were underwater, padding across the bottom of some great, green ocean. As there were no roads into Bario, the only access was by twin engine Otter plane. The sort where they weigh everyone before you board. So when the hike ended I flew back to Kuching, sweat-stained and mud-crusted, looking very much forward to clean sheets and a long sleep.
Our friend Philip’s driver met me at the airport to take me to the hotel. As we pulled up to the Hilton I began to thank him (in my mind already stretching across the breadth of that Sealy posturepedic) but he interrupted. No, Mr. Young had told him to wait while I showered and then bring me to his house, where Philip would host a party in my honor.
Shower? I needed to be dipped into a vat of hydrogen peroxide! Plus, when they told me what to pack for the trip (leech socks?) they neglected to tell me to bring a party dress. What to do?
The next 20 minutes were a whirlwind and went like this. Poked head into the hotel gift shop and asked them to send up any dress size 8. Retrieved my pearls from the front desk safe deposit box. Hit the shower til the hot water faltered and the run- off was no longer mud-yellowed.
Dress arrived. Good enough. Combed wet hair back into a one- pin french twist. Pearls, shoes, and I’m out the…oh. no. My hiking boots were damp and fetid, clumped with debris. The only other choice was a pair of Teva sandals, unsuitable and also filthy but at least rinsable. They looked preposterous with my dress and pearls but at least I wasn’t barefoot as I emerged from the elevator with a minute to spare, damp sandals slapping the lobby floor.
We pulled up to Mr. Young’s Gatsby-like family compound. As the driver came round to open my door I practiced smiling and looking him in the eye, the better to keep people’s gaze away from my under-dressed feet. And then I saw…..outside the entry lay a long line of shoes. Beautiful shoes. Jimmy Choo shoes. Red soled Louboutin. Because…Philip though Malay is ethnic Chinese. Inclined to remove their shoes before entering one’s home. Everyone, everyone at this party would be barefoot.
Three aspects of this story evoke resilience. One: Adaptability. An hour earlier I was muddy and knackered and ready to nap. This party was entirely unexpected. But remaining flexible when circumstances change is a hallmark of resilience. Two: Making do. I hadn’t the time or the tools to prepare. So I improvised. I adjusted. Three: Letting go. I’d fretted furiously about my feet from the hotel until the minute I saw that line of shoes. Worried needlessly, as it turned out. Fear and worry sap the energy we’ll need to craft real solutions to actual challenges. In the meantime it’s best to ‘chillax’.
So I slipped off my ratty jungle-weary Teva and walked into the party to find Philip. This time, my smile was real.
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