By Marcus Aurelius Anderson
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls.”
Life is a collection of moments, and you never know which moment will change your life forever. We all have priorities, as our lives change, so do our priorities. The things that were important to us as a child grow and evolve as we age. Along the way to adulthood, these priorities often become skewed. We begin to erroneously believe that material possessions and the opinions of others are more important than they should be. Logically, we know this should not be the case, yet we are compelled and motivated by these ultimately superficial things.
When in this headspace, it often takes a radical shift in perspective to bring us back to what’s genuinely important in life. This message from the Universe must be obvious and undeniable.
My radical shift happened while I was in the military.
While preparing to deploy, I suffered a severe spinal injury that left me paralyzed from the neck down. In a heartbeat, I went from preparing for war on the battlefield to a war within my own body and mind. During the subsequent surgery, I died on the operating table, twice. While the doctors saved my life, I was told that I’d never walk or use my hands again.
My life went sideways. I was in a complete state of shock. I simply could not wrap my mind around the notion that I would be like this for the rest of my life. I was beside myself. I couldn’t use a cell phone or get on the internet, all I could do was lie in a bed and think about my life.
The things that I kept thinking about weren’t my accomplishments. What kept coming to mind were the regrets of things I hadn’t achieved. I realize that we will all have regrets in life to some extent. We are often under the romantic notion that we will live a perfectly healthy life to be 100 years old until we are lying on our deathbed, surrounded by family and close friends. But I wasn’t on my deathbed. I was an otherwise healthy person who probably had another 40+ years to live in my current physical state, plenty of time to let my regret slowly eat away at me from the inside. Up to that point, I thought that I’d lived my life on my own terms and had some grand adventures. But in hindsight, I regretted not going after all the things I’d kept putting off “until tomorrow.”
Lying in that bed, I had no idea what I was going to do next. My entire life had revolved around my primary objective of deploying in the military. That goal had evaporated, and now I was left without purpose or the use of my physical body.
Without purpose, we look for distraction to keep us mentally, emotionally and physically occupied. The only distraction that I had at my disposal was anger. The madder I became, the more it welled up inside me like a venomous volcano. This inwardly directed anger is the very definition of depression. I started thinking of ways of taking my own life, but I couldn’t even accomplish that in my current physical state.
The things that I once thought were important became a distant memory. The education I had, the house I lived in, and car I drove mattered not. My bank account was simply a number on a screen or slip of paper that could not change my condition. Take a moment and ask yourself one question:
What would you do if you found yourself in my circumstance, what regret(s) would you harbor?
Read that statement again.
The things that are coming to mind right now, these are the things that you legitimately value. These are your Priorities, and these are the things you should start acting on this very moment.
In my paralyzed state, I quickly realized that my family was a priority to me. The strong relationships I had with longtime friends was another.But there was another priority that I realized I’d overlooked. That priority was gratitude.
I realized I wasn’t grateful for my health or physical abilities. I’d mistakenly taken these things for granted.
In hindsight, I saw that I’d taken the time I’d been given for granted as well. Up until the time of my injury, I always assumed that I’d have “tomorrow” when I could be potentially inhaling my last breath at any moment.
I tried desperately to find something, anything, to be grateful for in my paralyzed condition. I knew I should be grateful to be alive, but I felt like I wasn’t really living. It felt like I was simply existing.
Finally, after 3 agonizing months, I had an epiphany.
I realized that I was focusing only on myself, on my situation. I wasn’t thinking about others. Once I started looking outside of me, at the positive things that my injury prevented, my mindset changed. For example, if I’d suffered this injury while I was deployed, I could have potentially put others lives in danger. It takes many people to drag an injured man out of danger to a helicopter and fly him to safety. This means that everyone from my team to the helicopter crew and pilot of the Chinook would have been put in harm’s way to save my life.
That fact became the cornerstone of gratitude upon which I could build. I began to construct appreciation of more things on this foundation. Slowly but surely, I began to be grateful for other things I’d taken for granted. Eventually, I was even grateful for the bed I was confined to and the room that I may never be able to leave. After 3 months, I was able to see my injury as a blessing. Once I started seeing my Adversity as a gift instead of a curse, something miraculous began to happen.
A week after I shifted my mindset into this state of unconditional gratitude, the fingers on my left hand began to move ever so slightly. It wasn’t much, but it was a foundation; my foundation for recovery.
After another 9 months of physical therapy and more months of occupational therapy, I was finally able to walk and function close to normal. To this day I still have permanent nerve damage in my hands and feet. And for that, I am grateful.
This impairment serves as a daily reminder of how far I have come compared to when my entire body was in the same numb condition.
While distractions are infinite, the time and ability you possess is limited. Use both of these precious commodities to the best of your ability while you are still able. Take the time to realize what is truly important in your life and act on them…now.
Learn to be grateful for everything in your life, both the good and the bad. The bad times will teach you that the good times in life are like a fine wine, and should be savored and appreciated as such.
Your life can change in a moment as mine did, and there is precious little time to waste. Life is a collection of moments, and you never know which moment will change your life forever.
To learn more about Marcus visit his website:
His book “The Gift of Adversity: Overcoming Paralysis and Pain to Find Purpose” is now available on Amazon and Kindle:
His TEDx Talk “The Gift of Adversity”: