Saturday, November 24, 2007

Wise Words About Recovering from Adversity

Liberation Day in the Japanese POW Camp, Tokyo, August 29, 1945. The 6'2" skinny guy in the circle is a malnourished version of Hap Halloran. Hap still calls this day one of the happiest of his life.

I was doing a little more research tonight on Raymond 'Hap' Halloran. In the course of my research and writing, I have talked to many men who survived as prisoners of war and returned to build a satisfying and normal life. Each day, a small group of us email each other about different things, and this particular topic comes up a lot---how was it that men who suffered so terribly were able to return almost literally from the gates of Hell and have normal lives? The bottom line, of course, is that their lives were never quite as normal as they let on to those around them. However, each man learned his own way of coping with the memories and what now is referred to medically as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Hap's crew was a close bunch. Five of his friends perished the day their B-29 went down over Tokyo. This was only one of a series of traumatic events Hap would have to deal with for the rest of his life.

Tonight I read Hap's words on the subject, and they are well worth sharing. Not only will they help anyone who has lived through a traumatic life episode, such as a POW or battered spouse, but they will help anyone who at times finds him- or herself worrying too much about life's daily hassles and petty complaints and feuds. It took Hap many years to arrive at his philosophy, and we can all learn from it. So here it is, with credit to the website:

"My feelings now are this - if you can go through adversities like I've described and survive, the possibility exists that one day you might actually make comparisons on events and problems in your present day life and actually appreciate how small some of the things we actually worry about really are.

One can actually become more positive and appreciative of life because of earlier hardships, even the most awful of hardships. I feel these positive changes and higher values can apply to individuals in their personal life, in their family life, and in the world of business and society.

As I look at myself today, I know I have a far greater appreciation of life. Yes, even the simplest of things that I formerly took for granted can take on a special meaning for me now. I appreciate that I was very fortunate to survive this experience. And I have this feeling that I should do things for others as a form of appreciation for having been so lucky - or blessed - or maybe both.

I definitely have a much higher level of confidence than I've ever had before. I set higher goals and I have higher expectations of myself and I've achieved a reasonable degree of success in many of the things I've attempted to accomplish.

Most importantly, I no longer sweat or stress over the small stuff. I guess I've finally taken time to stop and smell the roses. For instance, I've made significant progress in the matter of speaking before groups. Even when I was a man in my forties, I had a fear of public speaking. Hopefully my presentations, no matter how tough they were for me, have had a positive and motivating effect on my audience. Sure, we all have problems - but you don't have to give up. All of us can hang in there and solve our problems and appreciate the incredible gift of life.

I make it a point to speak to students - I've probably spoken to groups of young people over 200 times now. I tell them how - within each of us -there is a power and ability to solve and accomplish things we never before thought was possible. I appreciate my life - and my freedom.

And I love watching our Flag flowing in a gentle breeze.

I enjoy and appreciate sunrises and sunsets - and especially the stars. Stars that I use to navigate with during long nighttime missions in a B-29 over the Pacific. The stars are still - and will always be - my friends. I guess I've come to the conclusion that it was those difficult days during WW II that taught me a lot of things about myself - things that have helped me over the many years of my life. Lessons that are still helping me today. And I will always continue to use what I've learned to help other people grow too. Especially young people, who sometimes need a little help growing."

---Raymond "Hap" Halloran