It’s Not Easy, But It’s Possible.
“Even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph.” – Viktor Frankl
What’s your date?
You know, the date when the phone rang, a friend moved, a partner walked out, the unexpected and unwanted became the new reality? What’s the date when the life you planned dramatically and painfully changed forever?
We all have one. What’s yours?
One such date for me is January 17, 1987.
It marks the date at age nine I was burned on 100% of my body. It is the date I should have lost my life and that I was forever changed dramatically and physically.
A year into recovery, I was still in and out of doctors’ appointments, therapy sessions and surgeries. I was still hoping my fingers might magically grow back, I wasn’t back in school and I was very concerned about how others might respond to the new me.
As the first anniversary of that date approached, I just hoped no one would notice. I hoped the date would pass.
Surprisingly to me, my family treated it more as a birthday than as a date to mourn.
There were balloons in the morning, cards on the table, a few gifts and my favorite breakfast. Later that day, there was a larger family celebration. After dinner, my grandfather guided me away from the commotion and love of the family. I shuffled next to him through the front hall and into the living room. He helped me sit down, then pulled up a chair so we could sit, as he liked to say, “man to man.”
Me, a t-shirt wearing, scarred-up and bandaged little boy trying to figure out what life might look like going forward. Him, a stately man, wearing a suit, who served in the Pacific during World War II, married, became a father and relished his role as a grandfather.
He asked me if I understood why everyone had gathered that night?
After responding that it was about the fire that happened to me a year ago, he compassionately put his arm around me, looked me in the eyes and said, “It’s not just the fire, John. We are celebrating you, your life and the fact that the fire may have hurt and changed you, but it didn’t break you.”
He told me, as only a grandfather of that generation could, that I have a choice. To view this date as a painful reminder of what I lost or as a magnificent gift of all I still had. He then handed me a gold chain with a simple cross on it. On the back, were the words: “Bravest of the family.”
Below the words, a date: “January 17, 1987.”
I was ten.
I didn’t feel very brave at all.
And that date still confused me.
What my wise grandfather was reminding me was a simple truth we all must be reminded of from time to time: life happens, tragedies strike, bad things occur. And then, in our very next breath, the next moment, we get to determine what we do with it.
Our personal calamities offer an inflection point in life.
This was a very hard truth to understand as a child. But what an important gift to open up on that very first anniversary.
Not just a gold cross or kind words, but the underlying fact they represented: The collection of all events in our life forge and form us perfectly into the individuals we are today. And perhaps none of those dates have the power of truly transforming our life stories as radically, and surprisingly, as positively as the difficult dates.
My friends, tragedy is certain to make its way into your life. Here’s the good news, borrowed from my favorite writer, Viktor Frankl: It turns out that even helpless victims of seemingly hopeless situations, facing fates they cannot change, may rise above it, may grow beyond it, and in doing so, may change not only themselves, but those lucky enough to know us.
It’s not easy. But it’s possible.
This is your date. Live Inspired.
I met a couple recently who had a similar reaction to a massive tragedy in their lives. For officer Mike Flamion, and his wife, Sarah, their date is July 8, 2016. The couple was hours away from leaving for a vacation when Mike, a police officer, made an ordinary traffic stop. After explaining to the driver why he pulled him over, Mike walked back to his patrol car to write the ticket. They were the last steps he’d ever take.
Mike was shot in the neck and left paralyzed. I had the opportunity to visit with Mike and Sarah, who have every reason to be angered, and see within them something that profoundly moved me: Peaceful acceptance. It doesn’t make the inability to move any part of his body easier, but it makes the journey through each day possible. They even celebrate the day Mike was shot as their “Alive Day.” Listen to this conversation on my Live Inspired Podcast to reawaken what’s possible in your life.