Friday, December 19, 2008

Happiness is Being Grateful to be Alive

"I would have been afraid, except that I was so grateful to be alive." **Brigadier General Rhonda Cornum**

We often see great people on television, or read about them in news papers and magazines, and we can't help but ask, "What made that person so great?" It is the ultimate question. What is it that holds one person back and gives another one wings?
Last night I met a woman I consider a hero. If I hadn't known who she was, I would never have guessed. She is thin and somewhat plain, in that she wore no make-up and had her long straight hair up in a clip, and she wore a neat blazer with a lapel pin that said, "Army," in crystals. Despite her unassuming appearance, there was an unmistakable intensity about her; she does nothing lightly. Most people have dogs, but she breeds Gordon Setters. Most people in the military run, but she has run half and full marathons. There are many women in the military, but few have attained the rank of Brigadier General, or been prisoners of war. Of course, over small talk at a Christmas party, one can hardly delve into someones psyche to learn what drives and motivates them, but you can get an impression of their personality, and the impression I got from General Cornum was this: Excuses are not in her vocabulary.
We talked about running and she admitted that she never considered it until she joined the Army. However, once she started running, the migraine headaches that had plagued her for years vanished. That was enough reason for her to keep running as long as her feet would carry her. Now when she runs she plans surgeries, speeches, reports, whatever is occupying her mind that needs sorting. This is the real duality of exercise. To someone that does not exercise, there isn't time. They are quite sure they could never come up with a free hour each day to devote to physical training. To someone that does exercise, it is an invaluable stretch of time in which they plan, dream, and reenergize themselves to conquer the conundrums of the day.
Everyone can come up with excuses for why they can't exercise: "I don't have time," "I have an injury, an illness, responsibilities..." Excuses are like blades of grass, all we have to do reach down and pluck one, or two, or a handful, as many as we need to keep from doing something we don't really want to do, or we can look up instead, and step on them all. We can stroll across them with our feet bare, feeling their presence and knowing we have risen above and moved on. Rhonda Cornum could have given in to excuses and no one would have faulted her. She could have turned down the mission that brought her into the public eye, (she herself wrote the mission plan that placed her in harm's way,) she could have given up when her helicopter crashed and her friends died around her. She could have given up when she was being brutalized by Iraqi soldiers, pulled to her feet by her broken arms, abused, and terrified. She could have retired years ago, with a successful career behind her and rested, but she hasn't. Instead she pushes forward, on to each new assignment with a strength gained through adversity and tenacity. She could have given up running. After all, she had suffered serious injuries including torn knee ligaments and a bullet in her back, but the pain of rehab was temporary and she knows the benefits of moving forward last a life time. As a Brigadier General she is surely busier than the average person, yet she makes time for her physical well being and hits the ground running.
Scary things happen to people. Car crashes, cancer, disasters, chronic illnesses, and endless other dangers threaten to steal our lives, but when they don't and we survive to see the sun rise on a new day, we must rejoice in the opportunity to live. We must be so focused on the gifts of life that it overcomes the fear of failure, pain, and the weariness of starting over yet again, and let them push us forward to our own version of success. We all have adversity in our lives. It is what we do with that adversity that separates the successful from the unsuccessful.
When I first felt the effects of a full blown RA flare, I was terrified. Now that I know I have survived it, that it is treatable and I can still do all the things I most want in life, I no longer have time to be afraid of the scary things the future might hold. I could be afraid, (what if my medication stops working, what if it causes cancer, what if...), but I'm too grateful to be alive!


Tanya said...

Wendy-yet again, an excellent post. I particularly liked your analogy of excuses to blades of grass. Well done!

spirit_in_me said...

Thanks for that Wendy! That post sure brought me back to what really matters.