No Second Chances

Watch your way then, as a cautious traveler; and don’t be gazing at that mountain or river in the distance, and saying, “How shall I ever get over them?”but keep to the present little inch that is before you, and accomplish that in the little moment that belongs to it. The mountain and the river can only be passed in the same way; and when you come to them, you will come to the light and strength that belong to them.

·        M. A. Kelty

Someone once wrote that great people have great flaws. One might also say great nations have great flaws that precipitate great tragedies. It’s the flaws that make us human. It’s the tragedies that offer the chance to reveal the “better angels of our nature.”

The United States has suffered a tragedy equal to its greatness. Our horror over the resulting death and destruction was and remains visceral. Our loss is almost beyond comprehension. More than 6,000 mangled bodies lie beneath the rubble of what was once a twin symbol of the world’s economic strength. How do we express such excruciating loss? How do we mourn and grieve what will be no more?

There is an age-old process to surviving loss ... whether it’s the loss of life or the loss of innocence. The process has three stages and how long we stay in each stage is determined by our own emotional clock. No one can tell us how to mourn. No one can set a timer on the extent of our feelings.

Nevertheless, the process provides a framework that offers a sense of order and recovery at a time when so much of what we once held sacred and dear is dead or in ruins. Believe it or not, most of us, as individuals and as a country, have already experienced two of the three stages.

  • Stage One: Shock and Denial

  • Stage Two: Anger and Depression

  • Stage Three: Understanding and Acceptance

  • Survival is a learned skill. One of the best survival handbooks for learning this skill is How to Survive the Loss of a Love by Melba Colgrove, Harold Bloomfield and Peter McWilliams. The following are a few instructive insights from the pages of this book. May they help all of us find ways to express our grief so we might each, in our own time, move through our shared pain and become stronger, more resilient human beings.

    1. Recognize The Loss
    Perhaps the worse thing one could do is dismiss what has been lost as a bad dream, and once the rubble is removed, life will be normal again. Shock and/or emotional numbness is to be expected. Indeed, both are part of the recovery process. But to become stuck in denial paralyzes our ability to mourn.

    2. Be With The Pain Admit you are hurting.
    Although you may be frightened by it, be with your pain. Feel it. Lean into it. You will not find it bottomless. Above all, do not block your pain ... don’t deny it or run away from it. It’s real. Acknowledge what you feel.

    3. You Are Not Alone Loss is a part of life, of being alive, of being human.
    As mundane as it sounds, we all have endured loss at some time in your lives. So don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. There are no gold stars given for going it alone. Call or visit friends. Mobilize friends and family into a support system. Remember, an emotional wound is as real and painful as a physical wound. It’s just not always as visible.

    4. Give Yourself Time Mourning, grieving and healing take time.
    The more catastrophic the loss, the greater the length of time. It’s hard for many of us to accept the fact something takes time in an age of fast foods and instantly replaceable everything. But loss requires time to heal. Allow yourself enough time to embrace and express what you deeply feel.

    5. It’s OK To Feel Anger
    Feel your anger. Express your rage. It’s OK to feel anger toward the person you have lost, or the person who took something or someone away, or the social conventions or customs that contributed to your loss. It’s NOT OK to hate yourself or act upon your anger in a destructive way. Channel your expressed anger into harmless, but helpful ways like a healthy primal scream, a cathartic crying session, a session with a punching bag, or playing the piano at double fortissimo. Anger is the fire that burns away inertia and clears a path toward more innovative and constructive action.

    In conclusion, let me add a peripheral thought to this sharing on surviving loss and pain. If any point was indelibly delivered by the unexpected and brutal acts of terrorism the world has just witnessed it is this:

    Live today fully. Love fully. Be at peace fully. Trite though it may sound, today is all we have. No one is able to guarantee a tomorrow. No one is immune to the unexpected. Live each day so each hour has meaning to you. When you retire for the night, be grateful for all your blessings, particularly the simplest but most profound blessing of your gift of life.

    Living fully is not dependent upon wealth or power, status or celebrity. Living fully means you deeply appreciate every hour for what it brings. Live fully each day and should any tragedy, even one as horrific as the events of September 11th, tear your life asunder, you will know you have lived fully and loved everyone and everything that was precious to you.

    To put this another way, use that good china, the set you saved for special occasions. What could be more special that each day lived fully?

    -Prudence Kohl, The eXpress Yourself newZletter ©2001


    Between The Superficial and The Substantial

    The sun rose; it rose upon no sadder sight than the man of good abilities, and good emotions, incapable of their directed exercise, incapable of his own help and his own happiness, sensible of the blight upon him, and resigning himself to let it eat him away.

    ·        Dickens, Tale of Two Cities

    A ship was hopelessly lost at sea for many days, when suddenly they caught sight of a friendly vessel. From the mast of the unfortunate vessel came the signal, “Water, water, we die of thirst!” The answer from the friendly vessel at once came back: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” A second and a third time the signal, “Water, water, send us water” came from the distressed vessel, and was answered, “Cast down your bucket where you are.” . . . The captain of the distressed vessel at last heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket, and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River.

    If our purpose in this world is to make our condition, our that of our fellows better, my sole advice is to “cast down your bucket where you are” – make friends and help those who are nearest to you. Think globally, act locally.

    We prosper in proportion to how quickly and thoroughly we learn to dignify and glorify common labor and put brains and skill into the common occupations of life; we prosper in proportion as we learn to draw the line between the superficial and the substantial, the ornamental gewgaws of life and the useful. Mankind will prosper when it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling the field as there is in writing a poem.

    It is at the bottom of life that we must begin, and not the top. One's true calling is not to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things in extraordinary ways.

    In the Roman army of old the soldier carried a large oblong shield on his left arm. When a city was beseiged the men in close rank locked their shields together over their heads and then marched in safety to the gate. So could it be, in this world of ours where brotherhood must prevail for the common safety and good of all. We need only lock our shields over our heads as we march against the vicissitudes, the trials and temptations of life, and not over our own heads alone, but over others who are sheltered beneath them. Where our fellow falls, our shield must protect his widow and their little ones by warding off hardship and penury. Where stricken with illness, we need care for his needs and that of his family.

    Love is so seldom unselfish. There is usually a motive and a price. William Morris spent his fortune and his life building the lives of others through cooperative homesteading, much like Habitat for Humanity does today. He was a “soldier of the common good.” In his waning days, he wrote of that which had become his creed: “I am going your way, so let us go hand in hand. You help me and I'll help you. We shall not be here very long, for soon death, the kind old nurse, will come back and rock us all to sleep. Let us help one another while we may.”

    We are not given second chances in the same set of circumstances in our life. We are given new chances till the end of our lives. The differences between the ordinary individual and the great is how one takes hold of and uses the first chance, and how one then takes the fall if it is scored against him.

    We have had brought home to us, in vivid detail, the need for understanding, brotherhood, concern and compassion for our fellow man, and the safety and well-being of all. Not a second chance, but an opportunity to begin again to do that which will make our world a better place to live and learn. We must each be a “soldier of the common good.”



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