What To Do If Your Parachute Fails
Survival Doesn't Matter if You Lose Yourself
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I have often compared all of us who suffer to war buddies; comrades in arms, fellow fighters on the battlefield of life. Is this not a battle, a war, we are waging everyday of our lives? When one awakens with pain, fights for sleep in spite of it and must live with it each hour that is indeed a battle.
Our reaction to this way of life is as individual as the rain drops that fall so abundantly here in Oregon. We each have the divine gift of free choice and are called upon to use it as we see fit. It’s tempting to go many ways and to pull out some most unpleasant responses to suffering. That is up to you as it is up to me. No one can crawl inside your heart and mind and tell you how to react. You can react with anger and bitterness. Why not? After all, it is only your survival at stake. There is nothing fair about life nor is it fair what has happened to you and to me. It is flawed thinking to believe you are being punished. Disease, accidents and disability simply happen. Like those raindrops, it falls on all in a random fashion and this time "you’re it.”
There are many of the great thinkers, leaders, poets, and others throughout history who have suffered greatly in their physical bodies. Many of them have overcome their anger, bitterness, and self-pity to accomplish great things, scale great heights or simply live quiet lives of peace and tranquility. Most of them found the key to overcoming. They discovered the sacrifice which occurred if they were angry and bitter all the time. That sacrifice was to lose their peace of mind. Most concluded, as many of us have, that we have lost enough in the loss of our daily health without giving it all away. Must we lose our spirits, our hearts and our minds as well?
There is one particular poet, William Ernest Henley, who was one of these who decided life was not going to defeat him. Born in England, more than 150 years ago, long before the advent of modern medicine, he suffered from tuberculosis of the bone from the age of 12. In his mid-twenties he had to have his left leg amputated; it was severed below the knee. He went on to become a most impressive figure, red-hair and beard blazing as he pursued a writing career as a poet and an editor. He was also a critic. He lived during a time when many of his associates have now become well-known figures to those of us in modern times. Even Robert Louis Stevenson’s letters stated that Henley was his inspiration. After the publication of TREASURE ISLAND, Stevenson wrote, “I will now make a confession. It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot Long John Silver…the idea of a man, ruling and dreaded by the sound was entirely taken from you.”
I find it interesting as a nurse to learn his connection to the great Dr. Joseph Lister. It was advised Henley should have his second leg amputated, as it also became infected with tuberculosis. He refused, and instead, chose alternative treatment with Dr. Lister who was pioneering his work with infection. Henley spent three years in the hospital under Lister’s care but went on to live another 30 years after receiving enough of a cure to survive with his right leg intact.
Another connection that is interesting from those long ago times is the fact that his little daughter, Margaret, who died at the age of five, was befriended by J.M. Barrie. Since she couldn’t speak clearly she referred to Barrie as her “fwendy-wendy,” which resulted in Barrie using the name Wendy in his story for children which is now immortalized, PETER PAN.
Out of much suffering, William Henley’s most famous poem has influenced and inspired lives of millions over the years, perhaps most notable those of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Nelson Mandela. Mandela had it written on a piece of paper in his prison cell of many years and FDR loved to quote it. Both men were inspired through much suffering by his brilliant work, written from the blood of his pain and suffering and still there to inspire all of us, “Invictus.” Please allow me to share it with all of you, who I believe are as thirsty for inspiration as I am, most certainly.
Out of the night that covers me.
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
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