When Misfortune Strikes, You Have a Choice

Photo of Glenda Standeven used here with Glenda’s permission. Photographer unknown.

A courageous woman once taught me about the choices we have when faced with adversity.

Life can be uncomfortable

We all have painful moments where we’re struggling physically or emotionally. Perhaps we’re exhausted from a restless night, or enduring aches and pains. There might be times when we arrive home stressed because an inconsiderate driver put our life at risk on the road. Maybe our partner or children have been testing our patience. We get frustrated with ourselves for messing up at work or feel embarrassed by clumsily delivered words.

Living in a human body is tricky. With this incredible mobile structure, we inhabit, and as with all complex systems, there is always the potential for something to go wrong. On the road of life, many of us steer our wobbly way through a series of relatively minor health problems and injuries. Relying on a combination of luck and the odd visit to the doctor, we dice with death, stomp out mini-crises along the way and against all odds, make it to reasonably old age. Others, though, are not so fortunate and have to deal with the consequences of serious accidents and medical conditions. Their losses may be profound and life-altering.

When things go sideways, we can choose how to react

Life challenges us endlessly. As soon as we deal with one issue, another one pops up. Most situations are entirely out of our control. The only thing we can control is how we react. Whether we allow our peace of mind to be disturbed or not is up to us.

As soon as I wrote that last sentence, I felt like deleting it.

Why? because I’m no expert on how we can shield ourselves from disturbances to our peace of mind. We may find ourselves on a stormy headland in howling winds close to a raging ocean. How can we protect ourselves from stinging rain and powerful rogue waves? It’s easy to tell someone to “Stand firm, and you’ll be fine” or “You’ve got this,” but like many things, this is easier said than done.

Finding a way to build resilience

Each of us has coping mechanisms, ways of reacting to and dealing with stressful situations. Currently, I’m exploring the practice of meditation. In particular, I’m learning the kind of meditation that improves resilience and helps to switch the focus away from physical pain and unproductive thoughts. It seems to be helping. Using meditation techniques, I feel like I’m starting to create a tool kit and road map to use when I need to redirect my mind and find peace.

Mustn’t Grumble

Many moons ago, I worked with an elderly gentleman called Ted. Every morning I’d ask, “How are you doing today, Ted?” His answer was always the same “Oh, mustn’t Grumble.” Eventually, I figured out that he probably had such a long list of aches, pains and problems that he didn’t have the energy or inclination to burden me with them all. Bless you, Ted.

Whenever I’m feeling crappy and have the urge to complain, my mind slides guiltily to images of the less fortunate. I think of desperate people in refugee camps, starving children with stick legs and bloated stomachs and patients waiting for chemo treatments in hospital waiting rooms. How dare I whine when so many are far worse off than me? In moments of despondency, one particular person comes to mind, a remarkable woman I met at a Rotary fundraiser.

Meeting Glenda

Arriving at the event, I glanced around and noticed a woman with strikingly dazzling eyes sitting at a table chatting with friends. She suddenly threw her head back with a mischievous burst of laughter. She looks like a fun person, I thought.

I located the friends I was meeting, and we found a table. A minute later, I saw the sparkly-eyed woman rise from her seat and pick up a pair of crutches. As she walked across the room on one leg, still smiling, my mind was full of thoughts.

She has one leg.

I wonder what happened to her.

What a beautiful smile.

A few minutes later, the woman stopped by our table and introduced herself. She told us that her name was Glenda and that she would be speaking at the event. During our conversation, I asked what had happened to her, and I will never forget her words.

“I lost my leg to bone cancer, and I’ve decided to smile about it.”

Glenda was then called up to the front and gave an inspiring speech. She talked about overcoming adversity and here, as close as I can remember it, is one of the stories she told.

What happened to your legs?!

Glenda was at the beach one day with her husband and a friend, who is also an amputee. They left their legs on the beach while they went for a swim. Glenda’s husband decided to use her leg for a pillow and fell asleep.

When they’d arrived at the beach, there were only a few people, but by the time they were ready to come out of the water, the beach was packed. Glenda was going to call out to her husband to bring their legs over to them, but she couldn’t even see him, so she realized they’d have to figure something out.

Glenda looked at her friend. She is missing her right leg, and her friend is missing her left leg. “Hmmm,” she thought, “This could work!” They put their arms around each other’s shoulders. Holding on tightly, they started to make their way out of the water and up the beach.

Two little boys were standing nearby, staring at them with wide eyes and shocked faces. One of them said, “Hey, what happened to your legs?!”

Glenda and her friend glanced at each other and, as if they’d rehearsed it ahead of time, they both looked back over their shoulders. “Sharks,” they said, and carried on up the beach.

Talk about making the best of a tricky situation!

Glenda Standeven is a gifted writer, award-winning speaker, mother and philanthropist. She is one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. You may like to read her book one day entitled, “I am choosing to smile.”

Glenda is aware of the irony of having one leg and the last name Standeven. She makes sure to mention this at speaking events to get a laugh and put people at ease.

Charles R. Swindoll said,

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”

I believe there is a lot of truth in this. If only we could remember these wise words whenever life challenges us and have the energy and maturity to act on them, every single time.

If, like many of us, you can’t always summon up the guts to be courageous or take the high road when things go sideways, hug yourself instead and know that you’re not alone. Remember this; of all the bad days you’ve had so far in your life, you’ve survived 100% of them!

Think about Walt Whitman’s wise words,

“Keep your face always toward the sunshine — and shadows will fall behind you.”

And when the curveball hits, be like Glenda and, if you possibly can — choose to smile.

Follow me on Twitter Gill McCulloch

I write about meaningful experiences, life learnings, medical issues, odd occurrences, fictional imaginings and situations that make me laugh. learnfirstaid.ca

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