Being able to take whatever life throws at you and bounce back is a pretty enviable skill these days. Even more than enviable, in these times of change and uncertainty, I’d say it is a rather valuable and in-demand tool to have in the kit bag of life! Any person who can look the setbacks and disappointments dropped in their path — never allowing them to knock you off course — is someone to be highly regarded and sought after! In my book, that kind of strength and resiliency is worth its weight in gold!
Over the Easter holiday weekend, we took a day trip to a town that is a living, breathing example of resiliency. Helvetia, WV, is an isolated village in the Appalachian mountains of Randolph County, WV. Founded in the 1869 by Swiss immigrants, the community is known for maintaining the traditions, folklore and food of its European heritage. With a population of 59 in the 2010 U.S. Census, the town is a case study in human resiliency.
The locals tell us they have been buried (and I do mean buried!) in the snow since Superstorm Sandy. Despite the beauty of mountainous snow drifts piled on charming alpine structures, the thought of not seeing the ground since October seems rather depressing to me. Storm damage in many areas remained untouched, and the flyer in the General Store/Post Office/Fasnacht Mask Museum made clear, the “community clean-up” date has been rescheduled more than once due to the lingering effects of winter.
The Hutte Restaurant, a prime attraction, is a step back in time itself, where the only food on the menu is Swiss-German traditional favorites and all are homemade. Fresh bread, locally made cheese and sausages, desserts that melt in your mouth, etc. It was like a Sunday dinner at my Grandmother’s house. On the walls were newspaper clippings of local history and lore, antiques that I was surprised hadn’t been slipped into someone’s jacket and a million relics that I could have spent days admiring. It was a living history to the people and traditions of Helvetia.
The jobs there are scarce. If you don’t work at one of the handful of businesses that cater to the (mostly seasonal) tourist trade, you are driving a very hard hour each way to work, or are a part of the local coal mining industry. But despite the endless snow, the quaint yet humble homes, the scarce jobs and the isolation that is Helvetia, the people are unforgettable. They greet you with the warmth of a long-lost relative, welcome you into their world with a pride and friendliness that is inspirational and have a resourcefulness and spirit about them that is contagious!
The resiliency of Helvetia’s people are what keep’s this town going. From their Spring Ramp Festival (don’t miss it if you are anywhere near the area!), their Fourth of July celebration, the amazing Lampion Parade and celebration of Fasnacht (the last Feast before Lent) and all of the dances they hold at the Star Band Hall, this town knows how to celebrate life, make merry and rejoice in the blessings of life, friendship and nature. They embody what we all should strive for in being resilient:
1. Be positive and enthusiastic about life: find the silver lining in even the most difficult of circumstances. While they see the bad, they also see the good in every circumstance and situation.
2. Seek the lesson in every situation. Every challenge brings with it a teacher to make us smarter. When challenges come, if we miss the lesson that is brings, we only get the adversity of the situation, not the opportunity. Find the lesson, you emerge the victory, regardless of the challenge. This humble town did not go away when people and jobs left; they give people reasons to come from all over the world to discover – and rediscover – it!
3. Keep your heart open. Acts of kindness and generosity are all around us. Opportunities to give and opportunities to receive. Being resilient means keeping your heart open to recognize the opportunities to be a giver and a receiver. Make it a point to be a giver, and learn to receive. Being humble and grateful will open your eyes, and your heart to the world around you. Friends made here are likely friends for life; celebrations here will be memories never forgotten!
4. Take care of yourself. Be true to yourself, be authentic and take care of you. Have good spiritual, mental and physical habits. Get outdoors, have good friendships, talk to God. When you take care of yourself, you can take on the challenges life throws your way with agility and grace. You cannot look at the beauty and majesty of this community and its people and not be inspired to live better, take care of yourself better and live a deeper, fuller life.
5. Laugh…a lot! Don’t take life or yourself too seriously. There is a reason why the saying “Laughter is the best medicine” has stood the test of time. It is true. Just go and ask to meet Helvetia matriarch Eleanor Mailloux at the Hutte Restaurant.
The people of Helvetia may not number many, but are an impressive bunch. High up in the Appalachian Mountains, their ancestors found a pristine vista to call home and build a community. Hard work, determination and a lot of resiliency has, over the years, built up a living testimony to what can be accomplished when people come together and make commitment to family and community.
- W.Va. festival is the country cousin to Mardi Gras (newsok.com)
- West Virginias seal of approval (wvgazette.com)
- Resilience in Challenging Times – 4 tips for staying in the game (leaderchat.org)
- Becoming Stronger….In Three Words… (ryeder.wordpress.com)
- The road to conserving the Appalachian landscape (usfwsnortheast.wordpress.com)