Just the other day, I read an email from a reader named Kathie that deeply touched me and reaffirmed my belief in the strength of the human spirit. Even though we only communicated via email, the beauty of her spirit came through, and her story put both a tear in my eye and a smile on my face. With her permission, I share her story.
Kathie was born to a mother with substance abuse problems, and witnessed her mother battered. She was herself sexually abused between the ages of 3 and 7, was a victim of arson, then separated from her siblings and put up for foster care. She was eventually adopted when she was 11. We have heard many horror stories about how people who go through such harrowing experiences at a young age turn out. Not Kathie.
She wrote to me regarding my "40 Things..." post on "Gratitude":
"...the two things that got me through these experiences are forgiveness and gratitude. Even as a child, it was in my DNA to understand that I needed to be grateful for these experiences - not only for the way in which they contributed to who I am today, but because they happened to me and not to someone who couldn't have handled them."
This still makes my eyes well up. This is not just a true story of the attitude of gratitude, but also the triumph of the human spirit. This was the story of one woman who would not let the circumstances of her life situation dictate the trajectory of her life. It is all too easy to blame our life circumstances on our parents, or our hard life, or on someone who was unwilling to help, or some element of society conspiring against our success. It takes a certain stoicism and resilience to push through all that, but it can be done. In an odd sort of way, on the other hand, it requires a peculiar vulnerability and acceptance of the situation, in the same way a reed is more likely to survive an intense storm than an oak tree is.
A little over five years ago, my life changed dramatically overnight and for a moment, I thought my life, as I knew it, was coming to an end. A few days later, after wading through the sea of my despair and confusion, and resolving to make the most of what life I had left, I had my most profound spiritual experience yet. I recall speaking to a psychologist friend and wondering whether I was okay: my exhilarating feeling of joy seemed terribly out of place in my circumstances. I had to know I wasn't loosing my marbles! What happened was that I opened myself to peace once I stopped fighting and surrendered - hence my indescribable joy. I eventually realized that, ironically, small things get me more worked up than major life upheavals - once I discovered the strength in me. That is what brought me to this point.
Echoing what Kathie said to me in her email, if you are brought to the situation, you will be brought through the situation with the attitude of gratitude and a generous helping of forgiveness, even if it is only forgiving yourself. Like her, I have learnt that the human spirit is indomitable and incredibly elastic; bouncing back eventually and bouncing back stronger. Just like intense heat refines precious metals, intense situations refine precious spirits - yours included.
My sincere thanks to Kathie for inspiring this piece!
Once again, your comments and stories are welcome. Stay blessed.