I recently read Unbroken and was left to ponder, among other things, the way one's approach to a situation seems to determine so much of how it is experienced and even the outcome itself. I'm referring to the ill fated rescue attempt by Louie Zamperini's flight crew during WW II, which resulted in their plane crashing into the Pacific and the three survivors spending over a month on a raft enduring horrific conditions.
Two of the survivors met the challenge with an innate sense of optimism and determination to draw upon every resource in order to see it through, no matter how daunting the odds might appear. The third survivor seemed to look at the same situation and draw a fatalistic conclusion from the outset.
The differing mindsets had a dramatic effect on the way these men experienced their ordeal. Without wanting to give away details, it would seem it even affected the actual outcome of their story.
Who are you on the life raft, dear reader? How do you deal with an ordeal?
Last week I received a phone call that caused me to drop everything and get on a plane to be with someone who is very dear to me. It's been a sad and scary, tender and funny time.
How can terrible things also be funny? I don't know. They just can. You kind of have to be determined on that point, I think. It's probably one of the few choices that's still yours to make in a moment of crisis. You know? Undoubtedly the terrible part is coming your way whether you like it or not. If you see something funny amidst the wreckage, grab it. Hold onto it. Have a good laugh if you can. It will feel like deliverance.
Sometimes the humor will be perverse. It may be dark. It may be borderline inappropriate. On the day I left, Caroline's hamster died. Not funny at all. I hugged my desolate girl and promised her dad would take care of things with a proper burial, then hopped on a plane. But when I called home three days later only to be informed Tin Tin was still out in the garage, decomposing in plain sight, somehow that was funny. Maybe you had to be there, maybe you had to have seen much worse, maybe you had to be sleep deprived, but trust me: it was funny.
Dear reader, if I could wrap my arms around this world and make every little thing better, I'm afraid I would. I'm afraid I wouldn't have the heart to let people suffer. But suffering isn't always such a bad thing. At least, in my moments of greater clarity, I'm compelled to admit some of the most profound and beautiful developments may occur as a result of sorrow and woe. You become a better person. You find deeper meaning in life. You see the great character in others. You are reminded more clearly of what matters.
Of course, nobody wants to hear about this while they're actually on the raft. No way. It's only for those who are looking back in hindsight. Tons of hindsight.
For those of you who are still in the thick of it: maybe you break a few emergency swear vials along the way. So what? Not every moment under duress needs be your finest. Not every manner will be fit for tea with the queen.
After all, you're on a leaky raft in the middle of the ocean surrounded by sharks, franchement. And some guy just ate your chocolate. Or maybe your situation is not quite that dire. Either way, I'm sure you have grounds for losing it. I'm sure you have grounds for being scared, hurt, angry, withdrawn, for wishing it would all go away.
But you also have grounds for a laugh. You do. Steady now. Wait for it. Something funny is going to happen. And you have grounds for noticing the beauty around you, for savoring every good moment, for not going down without one hell of a fight.