Crisis and pain can hold us hostage for a time, but we still have a choice in how we will respond to our circumstances, no matter how dire. When something disrupts our life, how do we move forward? I've seen it time and time again in my work with victims of war atrocities -- there are those who fight for their lives after devastating loss and those who succumb to their suffering. Why the difference?
To truly thrive, we must consciously choose for our lives to go on in a positive way. I have had to do it more than once. Most of us have, or will.
We may feel like giving up, but few of us really want to roll over and die. We'd rather be Rip Van Winkle and wake up in one hundred years, after our crisis is long gone. In the end, we don't want to surrender to death; we just want this suffering to end.
Choosing life is akin to swinging between two monkey bars, letting go of one just as you reach for the second. It requires faith that the second bar will hold your weight. It can take all the inner strength you can muster to let go long enough to choose a new path out of your personal nightmare. But it is an endeavor that must be undertaken. Passivity is a killer. Choosing life requires a willingness to fight. Your mind, spirit, and body must all engage in this daily battle to align for life.
After my experience in the minefield, a common question was, "Aren't you pissed, Jerry? Shouldn't someone pay for this?" It's not that I didn't have my angry moments -- especially in the beginning. But my expectation of myself was that I wouldn't go there. I didn't like that image of myself -- bitter, whiny Jerry who let a bad thing take over the rest of his life. There is a life to be lived -- my life -- and if I had to hop, roll, or whatever, I was going to get back to it.
At first, getting out of bed each morning was a challenge. The alarm sounds. Get out of bed and wheel yourself to physical therapy at 7:30 A.M. Just get up. Or just get yourself to the park every day. Call friend and make plans even when you don't feel like it. Eventually it becomes easier, even habitual. A routine, little by little, will ensure progress, an opportunity to see light flicker at the end of the tunnel.
Are you willing to try? Willingness to be open to your future is crucial. Curiosity helps. In the depths of pain, we might ask ourselves, How much worse could this get? One reason we survive crisis is our hope and belief that this moment will change. No, this is not the end. Each minute is excruciating, but we have to stay in the game. The question is, What can I do now that the scourge is upon me? Alcoholics live O.D.AT. -- one day at a time -- but in crisis we must survive O.M.A.T. -- one moment at a time.
Death seems like an option -- a choice in the midst of darkness. "I can choose to end this now." But is death really a choice? It's saying that our situation is larger than we are. My own choice to live is visceral. I'm driven to see what's over the next hill. Choosing life is also intellectual, in the sense that we must apply our minds to think differently about our moments of crisis. Don't just feel what's happening. Think about it; think past it. The threat comes when we believe a moment is larger than life. The key is to remember that life is larger than this moment. That is the perspective we must grasp.
Only by gaining perspective, by looking forward, by staying connected to life, can we move forward. We reclaim life. Not some noble, sad shell of a life, either. But a red-blooded, laughter -- and tear -- studded life that demands us to live it.
Copyright © 2008 Jerry White
About the AuthorJerry White is a recognized leader of the historic International Campaign to Ban Landmines, co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace; as well as cofounder of Survivor Corps. He lives in Maryland and Malta with his with Kelly and four kids. For more information, please visit www.survivorcorps.org.