How do you respond when your life is painfully changed forever?
“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. And it’s the date of an anniversary I celebrate tomorrow.
A year into recovery, still in and out of doctors’ appointments, therapy sessions and surgeries, I wasn’t celebrating it, though. I was still hoping my fingers might magically grow back. I still wasn’t back in school and I still 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. I still wished life would return to how it was before being burned.
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, 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.
My wise grandfather provided me 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.
This was a very hard truth to understand as a child. It’s a difficult reality to embrace 36 years later. But the journey to where we are now began with an important gift a wise man shared with me 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 ones.
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.
38 replies on “What’s Your Date?”
Do all inflection points in one’s life need to involve suffering and loss? The one inflection point that comes to mind for me is April 19, 1989. After having been rejected in my first application to medical school I was working as a research technician at Washington University. On that morning I was cleaning out the rat cages, scraping the bottom of the Cages into a garbage bag. My boss, a researcher at Washington University, burst into the rat room and told me that I had been accepted to medical school. From that day on my life changed. I love medicine and everything about it. I am so blessed to be able to help people in their need. I love the stories they tell me.
My son’s date is June 15,2018. His sobriety started then. He has been in liver failure and was in need of a liver transplant. By the miracle of God his labs began to change and the need for transplant was not needed. He is now healthy and walks 4-5 miles a day and continues his sobriety!! You are truly an inspiration to me and my son!
My date is May 18, 2009. It was in a very dark place in my life. Nothing seemed to be going right. I was extremely depressed and I wanted it all go away. So I made a very bad decision and tried to end my life. God must have had a different plan for me because I wasn’t successful. And I learned that we all have battles to fight. Just have to power through and you can do anything.
Well, I am keen on reading such articles and I always compare with other top authors. Strange as it may seem, but you’ll find a really extraordinary opinion on this point on compacom.com. I don’t know which one is true. Read it yourself and make up your mind which side to take.
I was 2 days into my quest to be a CPA, and I got the call to come to the hosp.
My best friend had been admitted with blood clots. I was due to take my kids to see her later in the day.
A pulmonary embolism changed our plans. The good I share today. I openly grieved her. After eleven years in a recovery program, my first response was not my addiction, but audibly grieving. Thank you
Thank you…very touching and inspiring …
Once again, the right words on the day I needed them found me. Thank you John. My date is 2/17/1996 and yes, I did rise.
My date is 9/21/08. Our family suffered a house fire and luckily no one was injured. It truly changed my life forever. You are a true gift that keeps on giving! Thank you for your amazing spirit and words of beauty! I am grateful for you!
You are a blessing to all you touch. I find strength in reading your life history. Thank you for sharing. 🙏
Thanks Joseph for sharing …. we’ve had two fires… and although no one was injured in the second, it was devastating … you have my respect and love.
You are a true gift that keeps on giving! Thank you for your amazing spirit and words of beauty! I am grateful for you!
This is beautiful.. thank you for sharing. Happy you are here to share your perspective with all of us and make us stronger.
Thanks John, January 17 was the morning I received a call from Dave Wirtz that Scott had been killed in the bombing we read about on January 16 in Syria. A day that changed many of our lives forever. We’ll be at the Village Bar tonight at about 6pm if you want to stop by. Happy for your bravery and that you are not only still with us, but a thriving inspiration to us all!
Gosh Jamie….so touching … thanks for sharing. … and thanks for never forgetting your friendship with Scott — and the legacy he left us all. STAY a man for others, Mealey — JO
I love that your parents made Jan. 17 a family celebration! Beautiful and powerful words from your wise Grandfather. Wonderful article and words for us all to reflect on in our life. God bless.
My date is September 22nd 2017. That was the date my first wife called mitted suicide at our home. That’s when my faith journey really began. The Lord has brought me through so many things since then, it’s made me a better father a better brother a better son and a much better Christian. I reflect back on it on virtually a daily basis, and can’t believe how much good has come from something so bad!
You took my breath away with this comment … I am so sorry for your profound loss …. and so deeply moved that you have used it as an inflection point for good. God bless you, your family and your wife
Happy Anniversary John!! May God continue to bless you with many more!!!
My date is September 13, 2020. I’m still working on turning tragedy into triumph. Deciding to do so has already taken me out of the depths of the tragedy. I have not quite reached triumph, yet it isn’t a faraway destination; it is present all around me.
I envision myself walking to a joyous destination of light – of triumph. Below me is hot lava flowing. I am walking above it or on it as Peter walked on water. The triumphant light is here with me now, shining on me and lifting me up above the lava. The lava is still there. It’s just below my feet. It’s still behind me and remains in front of me. Yet, if I focus on that light of triumph and continue to walk toward it, I’m fine. If I look down, doubt, look back too long, or start thinking I’m doing this on my own, I can start to sink. But all it takes is a quick look back up to the light, and I am lifted up again.
As I reflected on this, I realized that the lava is myself. It’s self-absorption and every other form of selfishness. The vision, using Victor Frankl’s words, is of me by the grace of God rising above myself, growing beyond myself, and by doing so, changing myself and turning this personal tragedy into a triumph.
The following is a list of choices that help me stand above the lava and turn my tragedy into a triumph. These are reminders to me and hopefully of assistance to you.
1. Recognize that triumph is a choice. And decide to achieve it. Decide to grow beyond yourself, change yourself and hopefully others and turn this personal tragedy into triumph.
2. Know and accept that tragic events happen and will happen again. Also, know that you can handle it because you are going to make choice number 3.
3. Trust in Our Lord. I have let this one get tricky by trying to reconcile free will, God’s will, original sin, the devil, miracles, etc. I sometimes find myself in a swirl trying to figure out how all these things work. Overcome it all and simply trust in Our Lord.
4. Decide it’s okay to be happy.
5. Find the fruit that grew out of the dung. Keep a list.
6. Recognize that you are not alone and lean on one another. You are helping one another stand above the lava, and they are helping you do the same.
7. Forgive – yourself, anyone else involved in the events that led up to that tragic day, and forgive God.
8. Help others do 1-7 by witnessing hope, sharing faith, and acts of love.
You know we love you, Gerard … and respect you and your entire family. Will never forget you, Ambrose, the loss you endured or the faith you continue to model.
Thank You John. My date is 9/11/2001. I’m sure you remember the reason why. It was great to meet you many moons ago. You do keep me “Inspired”. Peace. Craig.
Love you Craig — and will never forget that date …. or your intimate connection to it. I remain in awe of you, brother. —
Thank you John for motivating me on a regular basis!!
John, My date is today Jan. 16 2016, I lost my left leg to a rare cancer but I gained my life and I am cancer free!
I am 63 years old but became a Christian at 13 and read Victir Frankl’s book ” Man’s Search For Meaning” in my early 20’s. I have found that no circumstance can destroy our ability to chose our attitude within that circumstance. God is my strong help in those times of trouble, my compass.
Thank you for sharing your story, God had used it for so much good.♡
Nancy — I am so encouraged and inspired by you. … Thanks for posting and thanks for using this tragedy for good. God bless – —
John, I would like to thank you for providing the direction, reassurance and confidence to deal with real life events of both myself and my friends. Your inspirational messages and the impact realized goes far beyond 1st points of contact. I hope it also continues to inspire yourself!
Means more than you know, Doug — thank YOU —
Beautiful. Touches me deeply and changes “my date.” Thank you for your testimony. Changing lives!
Thank you so much for this message John. It reminds me of The Book of Joy. Both Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama share the same message. For those that have not read it I highly recommend it.
have not read it … but you just sold a copy!!!
The exact date you were injured was the same date my now-husband was injured and brought back to life. Though the injuries are quite different, I believe you both made the very best of a bad situation. My husband broke his back on January 17, 1987 and was forever changed as well. Since his injury and paralysis that day, he has competed in countless marathons wheelchair basketball games, hunting, fishing, etc. Had it not been for his accident, he likely would not have had the opportunity to travel the world competing in sports as he did. He also would likely not have attended college, which is where we met. We are both very grateful he survived as we have made a beautiful life together with our family.
wow….what a story….happy anniversary to your husband tomorrow, Jill!!!
John your scars heal us. Thank you for sharing your story in such a beautiful way! I love you and there is nothing you can do about it!
love you GB!!!!
Thank you John – I believe I just recently discovered my purpose – as you have – to stop living for myself and live to glorify God in everything I think, say, and do. I’m not sure exactly what that’s going to look like – but I’m on the journey and can’t wait to find out because His plans are so much bigger than I could ever hope or imagine.
I don’t recall this remarkable encounter you had with grandpa. What an extraordinary man he was. What an extraordinary man you are.
This story affects my soul the same way today as it did the first time I personally heard you tell it. Truly inspired!!
What a wonderful message!’