We have no control over what life throws our way, however we can make the choices that allow us to live it unbroken. Here’s how.
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I just finished watching the movie “Unbroken” –the biopic about Louie Zamperini the Olympic athlete and WWII hero who withstood unspeakable hardship as a Japanese prisoner of war. I also read the book which was even more graphic about the abuses he endured. One thought that kept running through my mind was how did this man live to 97 (he recently passed in 2014) after suffering so much physical and psychological abuse over such an extended period?
Our contemporary culture says if you don’t eat well, reduce stress and otherwise take good care of yourself chances are you are going to get sick, or worse (cancer, heart disease, etc.) Can you imagine eating the crap he ate, being tortured daily and living in an almost constant state of malnutrition and hypothermia and somehow live to a ripe old age? I don’t know about you, but it makes me wonder about what we humans are truly capable of when we put our hearts and minds to it. Then again I wonder, why so many of our notable contemporaries “check out”, give up or otherwise just don’t give it everything they got. Especially those who had so much to begin with (e.g. Robin Williams). What separates these two groups of people?
Heart, Mind & Soul
Victor Frankl, author of “Man’s Search for Meaning” is another example of the triumph of the Human Spirit over unimaginable adversity. As a Nazi concentration camp survivor he recounts how it was not the strongest or most determined men and women who made it, it was those who had something to live for.
For some, extreme adversity is the crucible in which the toughest steel is forged. For others, it is a fiery and agonizing way to go. Some don’t make it and yet hold their head high, others help the seeming inevitable along only to take their last breath in the bed of defeat.
It seems to me the ones who are most likely to make it through any challenge, no matter how tough have certain traits in common:
- Sense of Mission – They have things that are important to them that have yet to be done. And, I suspect that whatever the mission happens to be it is about something far greater than the individual who seeks to carry it out.
- Determination / Mental Toughness – The unwillingness to yield no matter what the pain or discomfort. In one scene of the movie the camp commander ordered Louie to hoist a heavy plank above his head and keep it there. He also ordered one of his men to shoot him if he dropped it. Despite being exhausted and weak Louie kept that plank high above his head in an act of complete, yet passive, defiance of the commander. To the point that it was the commander that broke down, not Louie.
- Open Hearted – The willingness to be vulnerable and authentic even in the worst of circumstances. In horrible situations this can show up as being a passive and compassionate observer. Ironically, as chronicled more thoroughly in the book, Louie almost self-destructed after the war due to severe PTSD and his unbridled hatred of the commander who took so much pleasure in torturing him. It wasn’t until he opened his heart and fully forgave his tormentor that he made it past that last challenge. It also set the course for the rest of his life which was dedicated to helping kids get on the right track in life.
Life Can Suck – But We Don’t Have To
It is not likely that any of us will ever, remotely have to endure what Louie (and many untold others during war) did. Yet, circumstances seem relative don’t they. What can upset someone else to the point of considering suicide could be viewed as just a major annoyance by another.
By definition we have little influence over our circumstances. However, we have complete control on how we react to them. That always boils down to a choice. Sometimes the choices are very limited and painful either way, but we always have them.
And I think that what living an unbroken life is about. Making the choices our hearts point us towards while fostering the mental toughness and determination to have them come to fruition.
Things may at times seem hopeless and incredibly painful to endure. Yet in every sea of misery is, I believe, an island of peace and grace that in the words of Eckert Tolle “passes all understanding.”
Louie and countless others who have suffered horribly at the hands of others or fate have found that island. If they can find it in their hearts we most certainly have that capability as well.
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