Though we don’t ever fully “recover” from devastation and loss, we can and must integrate our toughest experiences and move on to become Survivors.
By: Jerry White
There is much at stake. Embracing the patterns of victimhood has cost the human race a great deal. Headlines of terrorism, violence, and disaster assault us with increasing frequency. And the mass of victims grows daily. Individuals blame one another. Communities put up walls. Nations blame nations. How can we turn the victim tide, reaching out to the growing number of hurting individuals, providing the hope and support they need to transform into survivors who seek to fulfill their potential, who aspire to thrive? Can we help ourselves do the same? Will we start reaching out to others, connecting our hardship and theirs? It takes courage and a lot of hard work to turn the tide. It requires letting go of past resentments and bitterness. It means moving forward. I hope, by our example, we can help the world do likewise, building a future with survivors united.
We won’t get very far without first looking in the mirror and taking full responsibility for our own survivor trek. We might have to sit down with pen and paper to chart the facts of our lives — marking the dates of sorrow and joy — with notes on the ups and downs of emotion and evolving relationships. Keep in mind all the survivors throughout history who have marked the way. Their survivor compass, using the five steps, will help guide us.
Our dates with disaster are not over. We will get knocked to the ground again. But there, with our senses assaulted, we will notice things we never noticed before. I think of one of our national before-and-after moments — September 11. I hope it has not further propelled us into a culture of fear and retribution. Fear is the twin of victimhood and the enemy of survivorship, both individually and collectively. Only if we can put fear behind us can we live fully. That is not to say there aren’t things to fear in this world. Terrorist attacks are meant to terrify. But that doesn’t mean we should live trapped in fear.
Though we don’t ever fully “recover” from devastation and loss, we can and must integrate our toughest experiences and move on. Different, but still able to say yes to life. Recall the story of Persephone being pulled into the underworld. She never fully comes back, but her life is certainly full. The sheltered daughter of Zeus and Demeter, Persephone lives a peaceful life until one day, innocently picking flowers with her nymph playmates, the earth opens up and devours her. Hades, god of the dead, has burst through a cleft in the earth to abduct Persephone to become his underground queen. Zeus eventually negotiates the release of his daughter, and things get better, but they are never the same. Before Hades lets Persephone go, he makes her eat pomegranate seeds, so she cannot stay away forever. Part of each year she must return underground, since she has eaten from its depth.
I remember well the feeling of eating dirt in a minefield. Life never quite tasted the same. I think if we pick up treasures there in the underworld or in the dirt and integrate them, part of us will always belong to that other place. We may miss our earlier innocence — before our date — when life was simpler, God was simpler, and relationships were simpler. But we must eschew a victim mentality and teach our peers and our children to tap into the positive power of a survivor society. We follow in the steps of survivors, aspiring to thrive.
Why, with what I’ve seen, do I still believe fiercely in life’s possibility and potential? Am I just an idealist? Yes, proudly so. I possess a deep-rooted optimism and faith in people and the universe. I know we can all do better, be better, choose better. So why don’t we? There’s absolutely nothing special about me. The survivors in my book prove the point and the potential and resilience of the human spirit — your spirit. It’s all about choices, matched by determination to survive well.
The Five Steps on our survivor journey offer a way not just to recover, not just to survive, but to thrive. Step by step, we find power to convert our dates — the days that change us — to become more than we were before the illness or the accident. We understand survivorship is anything bur linear: it’s a process that involves three steps forward, a flashback or two, and then a leap ahead. Each of us is a mixed breed of survivor and victim. One day we can exhibit healthy survivor behavior and then reveal less attractive victim behavior the next. No one is perfectly resilient or consistent. But we progress, day by day, step by step, if we want.
- Like Mandela, always remember to keep your face turned toward the sun.
- Strength and purpose are yours.
- Face Facts. Choose Life. Reach Out. Get Moving. Give Back.
- Be inspired and thrive.
- It’s your choice.
Copyright Â© 2008 Jerry White
About the Author:
Jerry White is a recognized leader of the historic International Campaign to Ban Landmines, co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace; as well as co-founder of Survivor Corps. His book I Will Not Be Broken was published in April 2008. He lives in