In an earlier post I quoted Helen Keller who wisely stated:
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it”
The significance of this statement can be easily overlooked. And yet, this quote gets to the very heart of personal resiliency, particularly within the context of deep suffering such as an illness, serious injury or loss of a loved one.
I think most of us have at one time or another been moved by a story of great tragedy overcome. We are always sad for those who suffer, but for those who suffer and find a way to emerge happy and strong we have different emotions. We feel for their suffering, but we admire their courage. What’s more, sometimes we feel uplifted and inspired by their story. Hey, if they can deal with what they went through and live a full life, so can I! This is one of the great dichotomy’s of life: without evil and hardship, how would we know kindness and courage? Isn’t one partially defined and made possible by the other? In some ways, these stories of great courage help define the human experience.
A common reference point in this regard are veterans of WWI and WWII who knew suffering and loss in a way we (who did not live it) can never hope to understand. And yet, these wars defined their lives in a very real way. It is well documented* how some veterans expressed a sense of loss when the war was over. They did not want to return to the battlefield necessarily, but they missed the sense of ultimate purpose and comradery that they experienced in the trenches. Again, their courage and bonds of friendship were in some ways made possible by the horror of their experience.
Please let me be clear: I am not in favour of war and suffering! LOL Nor do I intend to in anyway diminish the suffering and repercussions of the lives they led after such terrible physical and emotional trauma. I ask your forgiveness as I try to bring life to an extremely elusive and difficult concept. I am merely trying to illustrate that even within the greatest of tragedies (and sometimes because of them) we have an opportunity to redefine our relationship with the world; to find courage; to help and inspire others. I ask you, is this not beautiful?
When you are facing great hardships in your life, it is essential (let me stress this: essential), that you approach it as an opportunity to shine, to grow, to be proud of who you are and who you will become. Fortunately, we have countless examples of brave souls from every place and culture who have faced great hardship and chose courage and strength over despair. Use these as inspiration; use these as proof that as human beings we can overcome almost anything.
The challenge most of us have is consistency, and determination. We are inspired to overcome, but after a while we fall back into old habits, old ways of thinking. Why? Because it’s hard!!! It is much like the New Year’s resolution we make in good faith, but give up on a few months (or weeks!) later. As always, the key is to change our way of thinking. I know from my own experience over the last few years, that this can be a daily struggle, or even one we face moment to moment.
I recently learned that I have two permanent conditions that will be with me for the rest of my life. One is very physically painful and makes it difficult to do even the most basic daily activities. As of this moment, I have no ability to play any of the sports or exercises that I love so much, or even play with my daughters in the backyard. This is hard, and it makes me incredibly sad, frustrated and angry all at the same time. What is more, the pain is sharp, intense and constant. This is very tiring and wears on me. The other is a constant sensation of falling, and a dizziness when I try to read, write or type. The feelings of frustration and loss can be intense, and believe me when I tell you I feel them often.
For me, mental agility is vital to my survival and happiness. I must continuously fight the urge to feel sorry for myself, and constantly reset my perspective. In other words, I remind myself that this is an opportunity to build my courage, my will, my mental agility, my resilience. There are times I feel like less of a ‘man’ because I face muscle loss, I am in many ways unable to protect my family, and these conditions have the potential to threaten my livelihood. So I reset. I commit myself to continually trying to grow as a person, father and husband. I spend time envisioning how I want to be perceived and what it looks like for me to overcome. I fail sometimes, but I never give up.
I am thankful that I have the opportunity to challenge myself, face hardship, and overcome in a positive and hopefully inspiring way. I can almost hear you saying: ‘Are you kidding me? You’re trying to tell me you are happy about this? Come on!” The honest answer is yes and no. Sometimes I am frustrated, feel sorry for myself, and feel sad at what I have lost. However, I truly am thankful for the opportunity it presents me to grow and succeed. There are many varied ways to measure success. For me success means that I am happy, productive and full of laughter.
Please indulge me if I have spent too much time talking about my own struggles. I want to make it clear that I am not comparing my personal challenges with the terrible horrors suffered by so many others now and throughout history. I am simply sharing a part of my own story. I debated for a long time whether to share this information for fear that it may seem preachy and self-aggrandizing. In the end I decided to go for it because I think it is helpful to know that there is real-life experience behind the words – hopefully you agree. Life is wonderful. Try to live every moment with grace, love and laughter. You won’t always succeed, but even to strive in this endeavour is an immeasurable reward.
* Look no further than comments of the indomitable Louis Zamperini