Rebuilding of identity with acceptance and hope
Nietzsche said that he who has a Why to live, can bear with almost any How. Viktor Frankl was a neurologist and psychiatrist who survived years in a Nazi concentration camp. In his book, A Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl used this quote to explain that when we can no longer change our circumstances, we are challenged to change ourselves.
Mark Pollock is blind. He is also a paraplegic. In a recent TED talk with his partner Simone George, they spoke about rebuilding his identity and how they resolve the tension between acceptance and hope. Is it optimism, realism, or something else? They say that the realists accept the brutal facts and they keep hope alive as well by running them both in parallel.
Mark Pollock and Simone George end their TED talk by saying:
Acceptance is knowing that grief is a raging river. And you have to get into it. Because when you do, it carries you to the next place. It eventually takes you to open land, somewhere where it will turn out ok in the end.
On my sister’s first year anniversary, I wrote that ‘as I look in the mirror… and try to discover who I am today, I remember what we promised you – that in our grief, we would smile, open our eyes, love and go on.’ She knew I would have to accept my grief as the raging river that it is. And she knew I would get into it. The rebuilding of my identity is like walking a tightrope as I am constantly challenged to change. But the promise I made to my sister will eventually take me to open land. I’m pretty she knew that too. It’s why she made me promise.
Living with both acceptance and hope in parallel gives me my Why. The writer Anna Quindlen was 19 when she lost her mother to ovarian cancer. This is her Why and How:
“Before” and “after” for me was not just my mother’s illness and after her death. It was the dividing line between seeing the world in black and white, and in Technicolor. The lights came on, for the darkest possible reason.
And I went back to school and I looked around at all the kids I knew who found it kind of a drag and who weren’t sure if they could really hack it and who thought life was a bummer. And I knew that I had undergone a sea change. Because I was never again going to be able to see life as anything except a great gift.
Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over the dunes, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over a pond and a stand of pines. Get a life in which you pay attention to the baby as she scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a Cheerio with her thumb and first finger.
The lights have come on, for the darkest possible reason.