In my April column, I touched on what it means to some to overcome incredible adversity and how these people make a commitment to survive in tough times; choosing to ride out the storm rather than sink. So recently, being drawn to titles like “Deep Survival,” “Long Distance,” “Will to Live” and “The Long Walk,” I felt it appropriate to continue exploring this thought-provoking subject of survival; why some can endure hardships at an unconceivable intensity only to emerge as the victor standing strong and tall. They are stories of courage, endurance, and the amazing will to persevere. Further, they are accounts not only of recognized individuals, but of ordinary people confronting tremendous physical and mental obstacles with remarkable strength and valor. I continue to discover these poignant tales through a range of means including newspapers; books, though not exclusive to the “survivor man” section at Books-A-Million; and the simple but popular anecdotes heard around the campfire. We can learn a great deal from these remarkable survivors on many different levels because in actuality, their stories represent how we all struggle at times in our lives.
The tornadoes arrived with unimaginable speed and force, and the difference between life and death was difficult to comprehend for the ordinary people in their path. The natural disaster quickly arrived on the scene, hanging around like an unwelcome visitor refusing to leave. In Alabama, entire homes were picked up and disintegrated as they were tossed the length of a football field. In Georgia, a teacher leapt from her bed into her closet at the eleventh hour as the ceiling peeled off above her head. From here, a call was made and served as a tearful goodbye from a terrified daughter to her frantic father. When the wind subsided, the closet where she had sought refuge was the only part of her house remaining with a large, uprooted tree suspended above. A sad goodbye turned into the greeting of a survivor with a renewed will to live. In a Baptist church in Mississippi, members of the congregation fled to a sturdy section of the sanctuary where they hung onto each other and prayed. As the storm passed, survivors emerged to find a mere skeleton of a church. And with this complete destruction before them, they knelt in prayer to give thanks for a new day.
For Lt. W. Robert Maxwell, United States Navy, surviving in the South Pacific for more than two weeks would depend on his intelligence and resourcefulness as a World War II fighter pilot. While providing cover for a striking force of SBD’s and TBF’s in route to attack Munda Field on New Georgia, Lt. Maxwell’s plane collided with another and he was forced to evacuate. He survived for 16 days in the South Pacific area utilizing the little equipment he had with him. His superior knowledge of the area and of the natives along with his enhanced familiarity of his parachute and gear proved to be the key to his survival. His innate ability to remain calm served him as well. Lt. Maxwell attributed his rescue in large part due to the brilliant work of an organization of South Pacific islanders called the “Coastwatchers.” One year after his ordeal, in 1944, Lt. Maxwell achieved ace status after downing three Kawasaki Ki-61’s. And from here, more than 50 years later, Lt. Maxwell survives Stage 4 throat cancer and, just recently, a near fatal car accident. Personally, it is a privilege to know such a positive and courageous man. Again, an ordinary person surviving extraordinary circumstances because of an exceptional attitude and will to live.
So often, when we are hit with adversity or life happening, we don’t always know how to respond. It’s human nature to question our coping skills. Some, however, reach far within themselves and find ways to manage their crisis as did the remarkable individuals I have written about. These people have an amazing capacity for surviving calamity and extreme difficulties; they are life’s best survivors. They remain calm or regain emotional balance quickly, adapt, and cope well. It takes more than skill to survive. People with little or no survival training have survived life-threatening circumstances. And those with survival training fail to use their skill and have negative results. Make no mistake, skill is important but a key ingredient in surviving adversity is the mental attitude of the individual. Having the will to get through tough times is essential.
Adversity can lead us to the discovery of strengths we never knew we had, and a difficulty that almost breaks our spirit can be turned into one of the best moments in our lives. Because without wind, how can a sailboat reach the shore…