I am fascinated by stories of people who manage to survive in the most extreme and unimaginable conditions. When I hear those stories, I wonder what it is in them that keep them hanging on and I wonder if I have it in me.
Sometimes, when I imagine that I’ve accidentally fallen off a cruise ship, I don’t really see myself treading water for days at a time. If faced with bobbing up and down in freezing waters, I would probably take the easy way out and allow myself to slip away. I would be happy to move along to the next life sooner rather than later as opposed to suffering for any extended period of time. I am not afraid of what lies beyond. I know where I am going when this life is over.
On the other hand, I really like my life and am in no hurry to leave it all behind.
About 14 years ago, I was in danger of drowning, not in an ocean but in my own sorrow. Like a person lost at sea, I felt hopeless – without hope, not one ray of sunshine could I find. I couldn’t see that life would ever be good again. I started thinking that maybe it would just be easier to slip under the waters, to yield to the darkness. All the while everyone was saying, “You are amazing! You are so strong!” I didn’t understand that. How could they not see how desperate I was?
During that time, my dad came out to Texas to hang out with me. Unlike everyone else, maybe he sensed that I wasn’t holding it together as well as it appeared from the outside because one day he sat me down and told me about a story he had read about a girl who was lost in a great forest. He said that every day she would climb the tallest tree she could find and she would shout at the top of her lungs, “I am a survivor! I will survive!” And then she would listen for her own voice echoing back, “I will survive I will survive I will survive…” Eventually she was rescued or found her way out of the forest, I don’t recall.
I don’t know if my dad really read that story or if he just made it up on the spot, but on that day, I became the girl who climbed a tree every day, shook her fist at the world and shouted, “I will survive!” On that day and in that moment, I made a decision to carry on, to go on and live and to live well.
A decision — the difference between life and death. That is the certain something that survivors have in common.