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The Human Spirit

To once again borrow Shakespeare – “of all the wonders I have yet heard….” I’ve lived long and well, and have had the blessing to have seen and experienced a great deal – both love and loss – by many people. But nothing I have seen or heard compares to the wonder I have discovered in the human spirit.

They claim the only creature that will survive us all would be the cockroach; now they say it is the tardigrade, a small (microscopic actually) animal that is the toughest and most resilient creature known. And I will acquiesce to the scientific community based upon their research and collective wisdom. But I must insert my own thoughts. In my humble opinion, I think while the human body – the vessel – is certainly not the toughest and most resilient, or even in the top ten, but the human spirit? That my dear reader, is without a doubt the toughest and most resilient thing in the universe.

I’ve written several time on how it is extraordinary how extraordinary the ordinary person can be, and this will be a continuance of that thought. Mostly because the depth of our spirit astounds me daily. True story – not long ago I was sitting in the waiting room. Out of the exam area comes a guy. As he was leaving he explained to his waiting son that he needs a consult. He then looked at all of us in the waiting room and smiled and shrugged – “I have ALS” he said, “now it’s my prostate. What are ya’ gonna’ do?”

He then went on to say – “I’ve been playing rock and roll all my life – told my kids that once it’s close, lay me in bed with my guitar, stuff a bunch of junk food and liquor down my throat and let me choke on it and die – like a true rock star”


And as he walked out his son looked right at me and said, “…..yeah, and I get arrested for murder.”

And that is the human spirit: resilient, humorous, strong, and indomitable. We fight and claw to the very end; we rise, knees and hands trembling, to face our worst fears; we crumble in tears at witnessing the pain of strangers; we forgive the harshest and deepest cuts of transgressions against us; we trip over ourselves to help an injured animal. We are a blend of every wondrous and magnificent virtue and trait one could possibly list. We have bottomless depth in our spirit; layers and levels we don’t even know exist until we need to dig deeper. We are amazing in our creation.

One of my favorite email signatures at work up until I left was “May the worst of the moment reveal the best of the person.” (BTW one I am proud to say I coined!) It of course refers to the philosophy that this missive is poking at: that we are of incredible depth and resilience and we never know of what we’re capable until we have to discover it in trying moments. The worse thing become, the more strength and resource we find in ourselves. Think of Dante’s nine circles of hell. It doesn’t even matter if you’ve never read it, I’m sure you’ve heard of it and can develop your own interpretation of the meaning.

Life has a way of suddenly just dropping us into a level of hell. For some it is being abused as a child; for others, being bullied as a child, or even just the first loss of a family pet when young. The ground collapses under your feet and this nightmarish hole of holy hell opens up. You drop instantly – so quickly that it leaves your tortured scream still hanging in the air where you were standing. Your stomach hits the roof of your mouth as you fall, at first with mind-numbing speed and then going into slow-motion as details become clear. Horrific scenes are etched into your mind as your drop ever deeper – scenes of your personal moment – forever branded into your mind and soul. You’ll remember every detail for the rest of your life: how it smelled, what song may have been playing on the radio, the shoes you were wearing perhaps…..there are details that will never leave your consciousness for as long as you live. The moment becomes indelible.

The first thing you can feel once you finally land in your hell is horror, immediately followed with shock, disbelief, pain, sorrow, despair, and hopelessness. Then anger that this happened. It rends at the very fabric of your soul and causes great rips and tears. It is overpowering and devastating in the moment. The helplessness and hopelessness is crippling.

I barely – if at all – remember the loss of my mother when I was a little boy. But I have absolutely zero doubt that my 5 year old spirit went through all that, and more. There are some things that remain hiding in the shadows of my memory, lurking in the periphery of my consciousness, things I am mostly sure are connected to her and my last moments, but not completely sure. I know that may seem to contradict what I wrote a moment ago, but it’s been almost 60 years removed from that moment and the memory of a child is shaky at best anyway. That was not my only level of hell and the ones that came to me later in life as an adult fully support my thoughts.

But after a while – an extremely broad term and intentionally so – after a while we begin to accept and understand what has happened to us. And through the pain, through the tears, through the painful distortions of our soul, we begin to look for a way out – a way back up….to life. And the tools we each use to kick, climb, and fight our way out are as varied and unique as we each are. There is no recipe or YouTube video on how to fight back, on how to replace hopelessness with the will to go on, but we do so. And that is the legacy of our human spirit.

Search the internet, search your own memory; there is no shortage of terrible and horrendous events that have befallen people. I mentioned the loss of my mom. But moving outside of myself there are countless moments that would bring a Greek god on Olympus to their knees. And in each case I watched the people come back from hell; back from the depths of their own personal hell. Some I wonder to this day how they did it, but they did it. The human spirit. My grandparents; buried not one but two children. And then after my mom died, my dad remarried and for his own reasons, completely abandoned our life. He quit his job, sold the dream house that he had designed and built, sold his airplane, and pretty much everything else. And then he whisked me and what was left of our life up to Rhode Island; with o forwarding address.

Bear in mind my grandparents had already buried one child and had just finished burying their other child. And then without warning, their only grandchild and their only remaining connection to their daughter, was taken away without so much as a goodbye. To this day I struggle to fathom the loss they must have felt; the pain, the anguish, had to have been a particularly deep level of hell. They searched – they searched for me for years – they hired a detective. This was the sixties – no internet, no electronic records – it was hard to track down someone. But they did. They found me in our home here in RI some years later.

As I wrote about that moment in a previous post: But then one day, around 8 or 9, I was playing in the house. Mom kept peeking out the front window and was obviously upset. Suddenly the front doorbell rang. Rather than run to answer it, she screeched at me in this horrifying whisper/scream “Go to your room and don’t make a sound” Confused, I did so and cowered in my room in a corner while the doorbell rang and rang. Fast forward either some hours, or a day, and the same people were back at the door and this time, were allowed in. They were my grandparents.

Oh how they hugged me and kissed me – all so very confusing to me. I was told they were old family friends but to please call them grandmom and grandpop “to make them feel good.” A

They had clawed their way back to life from the depths of their hell; they had persevered and had survived. The depth of their strength, their fortitude, to fend off the weight and toxicity of all that sorrow, is unfathomable to me still. But that is the depth of the human spirit.

And as I said, proof is everywhere; for example if you don’t know her story, read about Elizabeth Smart. The human spirit. Those who survived the Holocaust, those who endured prisoner of war torture, those who have lost their entire family in a tragedy……there are just countless examples of people who have endured their own personal level of hell and climbed back out.

And that is something I really want to try to impress upon anyone who cares to listen to me (or read my words….); that none of us can appreciate, realize, or possibly comprehend the profound depth of our internal strength. And yes – it is something you don’t know you have until you need it (and I truly hope that none of you ever need to know the depth of your personal strength), so knowing “something” will be there “if” you need it in times of sorrow may not seem too useful. But sometimes just knowing you have it even if you aren’t really sure what “it” is, can help. This is not a case of a rah-rah “trust me – you got this” kind of pep talk. Not at all. Words cannot adequately describe the torment and pain of whatever your personal level if hell may be; the misery and distress are often life-altering. You – and you alone – will have to be the one to fight through it and climb out of it. Certainly people can support you and comfort you, but they can’t pull you out; only you can do that. And it is hard. But I want you to know that it IS within you – you DO have the power to triumph over the deepest and darkest levels of hell imaginable. Never forget that. That is the power of the human spirit.

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