The resiliency and fortitude of the human race never cease to amaze me. We can be the most fragile of living things in this world, and yet, at the same time exhibit an unstoppable will and capability to survive.
Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day. Pause for two minutes to contemplate the atrocities under Hitler’s regime: the concentration camps, the gas chambers, the millions of displaced and executed people. And let the enormity settle. It is heavy. And oppressive. The savagery and the hate required to commit such deeds are incomprehensible.
But, just yesterday during Holocaust Remembrance Day, the air raid sirens screamed out in Israel, the masses stopped in their work and got out of their cars, and an entire nation was standing as proof that Hitler failed. The very existence of Israel is an irrefutable victory, evidence of humanity’s intense determination to endure, a continuation in the face of their adversity and afflictions through the ages.
Authors like Viktor Frankl and Elie Wiesel and Corrie ten Boom have recorded their memoirs so we never forget, and a populated nation full of people are living reminders.
The book Back in the Fight tells the story of Sergeant First Class Joseph Kapacziewski, an Army Ranger who defied the odds and returned to active combat duty after losing his leg in a grenade attack. He endured over forty surgeries before making the difficult choice to amputate his right leg and be fitted for a prosthetic. When doctors regrettably informed him that he may never walk again, and most certainly wouldn’t be able to return to his unit, Sergeant Kap rebounded with all the intensity of a U.S. Ranger. Not only does he walk, he runs marathons, he parachutes out of airplanes, and he returned to Iraq to rejoin his men and pick up where he left off before the grenade altered his world, becoming the first and only amputee in the history of the Army Rangers to return to combat. Today he is a role model and an inspiration to other wounded veterans, to amputees, to our country, and to his two young sons. The indomitable spirit of the human heart revealed in yet one more unstoppable example.
A few years back, in 2003, Aron Ralston went out for a hike and, in a rappelling mishap, was pinned by a large boulder for over five days. With little food or water and no means of communicating his dire situation, he understood he would either break free on his own, or die there. In his book Between a Rock and a Hard Place, and in the movie 127 Hours, Ralston’s story is told, of how he fashioned a tourniquet on his arm, sawed and hacked and ultimately broke his own arm bone, and walked out of the canyon under his own steam to reach help.
This list of individuals and their survival stories could go on and on as testament to the human race in all its complexity. We are not simply bodies; some of us are imbued with a stubborn tenacity, a refusal to quit or die quietly. I am deeply challenged and inspired by the books I read and the first person accounts of triumph when it looked impossible and by what we are able to accomplish when we put our hearts into it.
It makes me ask myself, Do I have the stuff? In those situations, would I be the one who powered through; who never gave up; who overcame adversity and refused to accept the odds, or the doctor’s prognosis, or the skepticism of my peers or my critics, and even met nature itself head-on? I truly don’t know, none of us do, until we are there.
Though, there are hints to be found in my daily response to life’s smaller challenges:
How do I react to adversity?
What do I say or do when I’m thwarted and frustrated? When my dreams die or are postponed or derailed for a time?
What is my response when I make little to no progress and feel ineffective?
Do I embrace or reject the doubt and insecurity that tell me to live small?
Every single one of us carries within ourselves the potential for greatness and courage. We are creators and innovators and warriors and visionaries made in the image of a powerful God, and until a moment of extreme duress and emergency is upon us, we don’t have a way of knowing what we are truly made of. Perseverance, resilience, tenacity, fortitude, endurance, hope, stubbornness, the refusal to quit — whatever you call it, the fires inside are fanned by the stories and achievements of our fellow-man and a forging of character is being accomplished, shaping us into who are we and who we will be and deciding what course of action we will take when it’s time to really make it count.
We need those stories. We need to stoke our imaginations and challenge ourselves and ask the difficult questions often. Because while most of us will never be hit by shrapnel or have the need to amputate our own limbs or experience the hells of a concentration camp, we all need the fortitude to get through the day, making wise choices, being kind, and extending grace to ourselves and others. And at the end of that day, when the sun has gone down and we are contemplating our recent behavior, we can hopefully breathe easier, resting in the knowledge that we do have what it takes to make this world a better place, to fight on for our dreams and goals, and to encourage one another.
We are all in this journey. We’ll reach the end, either with scars and a quiet confidence and a reassurance that we lived well and tenaciously refused to “go quietly into the night”; or we’ll creep like the defeated, perhaps inside a well-preserved package that never encountered trials and that refused to stand up against the current. With the role models of heroes to inspire us, encourage us, and show us the way, why would we stoop to that level when we could be awesome?