There are countless stories about individuals and groups of people from all over the world who have survived and overcome the most horrific circumstances in their lives. And then there are stories of those who let life experiences destroy them and they gave up by either turning to addictions and/or suicide. What is it about the mind that it can be so delicate that it can snap in an instant causing a person to succumb to the most debilitating mental and physical illnesses, yet at the same time, it can be so powerful as to help a person overcome the greatest of obstacles? We know many people who have gone through the most horrendous physical and/or mental and emotional experiences. Some let those experiences destroy them and they become barely functioning individuals. Yet others have gone through the same or similar experiences and have become stronger and better people because of those experiences.
There are many people whose autobiographies I have read and whose stories have made a huge impact on my life. Immaculee Iligibiza wrote several books, which included “Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust,” and if you haven’t read it, I would highly recommend it. Immaculee was a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The Hutu’s declared war on the Tutsi’s and nearly one million Tutsis…men, women, and children, were literally slaughtered by the Hutu marauders. Immaculee escaped to a nearby Hutu pastor’s home where she and seven other women hid quietly in a three foot by four foot bathroom for three months. They couldn’t make a sound because the pastor’s own family didn’t know they were in there as he had covered the door with a dresser. Hutu’s were always present searching for them. The pastor tried to sneak food in for the women when he could. When Immaculee went into hiding, she weighed 115 pounds. When she came out, she weighed 65 pounds. When the French came to establish refugee camps, the women walked down roads seeing dead bodies piled high on each side. Immaculee soon learned that with the exception of one brother, all her family and friends lost their lives all in the name of hate.
But Immaculee had a strong faith and her will to live was strong. With books from the pastor, she taught herself to speak English. When released, she committed her life to teaching peace, hope, and forgiveness, even towards those who slaughtered her family and friends. She went on to work at the United Nations, moved to the United states, received five honorary doctoral degrees, has written numerous books, became a U.S. Citizen, got married and had children, and was the recipient of the Mahatma Gandhi International Award for Reconciliation and Peace award.
Another recent inspiring story is about Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani, Sunni Muslim girl. Malala’s father ran a chain of schools and believed that all children, both boys and girls, should be highly educated. The schools were doing really well until the Taliban militants starting taking over the Swat Valley where Malala and her family lived. These extremists banned television, music, girl’s education, and more. Malala wrote a blog under a different name for the BBC about her life and education, and she stood up to the Taliban. In October of 2012, a Taliban gunman found her on the bus after taking an exam and shot her in the face. Her story became well known and she gained support from people all over the world.
On her 16th birthday, she spoke at the UN to call for worldwide access to education. In her speech, she said, “The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born ... I am not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I'm here to speak up for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists.” She wrote a book titled “I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban” and talked about her life as a Muslim and her passion for education. The book also gave great insights into the goodness of Islam. In 2014, at the age of 17, Malala was a co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.
Another story recently told in the movie “Unbroken” was about the life of USA Olympian and athlete Louis “Louie” Zamperini, who survived in a raft with two other men in the ocean for 47 days after his bomber plane was downed in WWII (one died during the ordeal). Captured by the Japanese Navy, they were sent to prisoner of war camps where they were severely beaten. When the war was over and after his release, Louis got married and became an inspirational speaker. He, too, was able to forgive those who persecuted him. A few days before his 81st birthday in 1998, he ran a leg in the Olympic Torch relay for the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
These are just a few of the many examples of people who triumphed over adversity, who went on to have successful public careers, and are using their experiences to make a difference in the world. There are many others: Survivors of the Holocaust, 9/11, POW’s, Oprah Winfrey, Helen Keller, Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Victor Frankl, and countless more. I would highly recommend reading more on these and others.
But not all people who are experiencing or have overcome adversity are well-known. Many of them are people like you and me, living everyday lives. Our hardships range from the minor to the major, but regardless of what the experience, they are just as much an obstacle to overcome. Yet we all have that Indomitable Spirit within us!
Maybe you had an illness/disease and you did whatever you had to in order to survive; you have an Indomitable Spirit! Maybe you experienced an accident, abuse, financial issues, emotional issues, or whatever the issue, but you survived and made it through; you have an Indomitable Spirit! Maybe you are being bullied, but you keep on going in spite of it; you have an Indomitable Spirit! Maybe you are struggling just to get up in the morning to get through another day or another minute, but you are surviving; you have an Indomitable Spirit!
Granted, there are those who do let life destroy them and they succumb to an addiction or whatever in order to escape life. They still have an Indomitable Spirit; they’re just not aware of it! Or there are those who do end up taking their own lives. They still have an Indomitable Spirit, but for whatever reasons, they let people and/or life beat them down so much that they didn’t realize they had that power to overcome. We have to remember that people who commit suicide don’t really want to die; they just want the pain to end. I always say never take away a person’s hope because that may be all they have left.
I sometimes hear people say “If I could do it, then others can do it.” I so disagree with that statement. What I prefer to say is “If I can do it, that means it’s possible for others to do it.” We have to be careful not to judge those who do let life beat them down. We never really do know their state of mind or what they’re really going through. Everyone has a bigger story than we see or know.
There’s a quote by Marianne Williamson that I include in many of my writings and it’s become one of my favorite quotes of all time. It states: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
If you’re going through what I call “heavy-duty-life-do,” please know that you’re not alone. Everyone has something they’re going through, but everyone handles it in different ways. It really is our attitudes, our beliefs about ourselves and our world, and the thoughts we think that make a difference in how we get through life. If you’re going through something, I won’t promise that it will get better because I don’t know your story. But you DO have it in you to make it through. I really believe that if we have the attitude of looking at everything as a lesson to make us a stronger and better person, then when we get to that hindsight part of your life, we will look back and will see that it really did make us a stronger and better person. Don’t let people or life beat you down! Try to keep things in perspective. One thing I do is look at others who have it so much worse than me, and then I realize, I do have it pretty good. I’ve learned to count my blessings. Life really is beautiful and good; it’s just we humans who make it so difficult. Therefore, friends, please hang in there. It’s always possible for things to get better!
You ARE stronger than measure! You ARE meant to shine! YOU have an IndomitableSpirit! Better yet, you ARE an Indomitable Spirit! There’s a song that I’ve been singing over and over and it goes, “Don’t worry about a thing, ‘cuz every little thing’s going to be all right.” (“Three Little Birds” written by Bob Marley.) I know that in the greater scheme of things and no matter what I go through in my life, everything is going to be all right. To all those who are struggling, I love you and honor you, and am holding you in loving consciousness. Blessings to you always.
Published in the Putnam County Visions magazine April 2015 issue