Monday, August 29, 2011
Missing in Action
My dad flew risky missions for Air America during the Viet Nam war. A few days after Christmas 1971, three planes left the airfield in Vientienne, Laos—my dad’s was in the middle. When they arrived at their destination, the first plane landed, then the third. My dad’s plane never showed up.
Search teams scoured the flight path, but days and weeks turned into months and years. They never found him. One comfort was that my dad lived a full life doing what he loved.*.
For me it was easier to accept the idea that he died instantly in a plane crash..I couldn't bear the thought that he might have been captured by the enemy and suffered at their hands. Sometimes life takes twists and turns, we'd never choose.
Mine has. Sometimes I’ve felt captured by circumstances not of my own choosing forced on me by enemies--people who, whether intentional or not, caused me tremendous pain.. Losing my job, lack of income, feelings of betrayal by people I trusted, divorce--each of these situations had the potential (and still does) to imprison me in bitterness and anger or a “why me” mentality. But a man in a concentration camp during the Holocaust taught me that I have the freedom to choose my own attitude.
Viktor Frankl, a brilliant psychiatrist, wrote Man’s Search for Meaning after suffering years of unspeakable horror in Auschwitz and Dachau. He said “that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate” (p. 86 & 87).
When someone wrongs me, no matter how bad it hurts or what rotten circumstances it initiates, like Frankl, I have choices to make. Determination not to give anyone or anything the power to turn me into a person I don't want to be helps me think about my attitude and make choices that feel terrific. More on that tomorrow.
*The photo was taken years earlier. If I remember right my dad was 51 when he disappeared.