What Situation Are You In?

We are surrounded by negativity.  These days, in fact, we are completely encased in it.  The fear-mongering in every corner, our developing culture of intolerance and irritability, and the constant flood of sensationalist mass media.  Just today in a quick browse of the internet I found these stories:

  • From CNN:  “America the Miserable?” . . . Have Americans had their optimism “beaten out” of them by the lagging economy, terrorism fears and two wars?
  • From Fox News:  Alabama Professor Charged in Shooting
  • From ABC News:  Was this the beginning?  IRS Agents Face Mounting Threats
  • From NBC News:  Woman Pleads Guilty To Swapping Kids For Bird and, in celebrity news, one is addicted, one is in rehab, and one is divorced.

Is your life defined by the circumstances around you?  Maybe the headlines seem more distant to you, but other, closer external circumstances can be very compelling and disturbing.  Maybe you have a family member with mental illness, or you have a disability.  Maybe your spouse is depressed, or your teen keeps getting into trouble.

Maybe, Like Dr. Randy Pausch, you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness.  Dr. Pausch was a computer science professor Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  He was happily married with three young children when he received the news that he had terminal pancreatic cancer.

Pause a minute before reading on, and imagine how you’d react to this kind of news.  Probably the same way the Pausch’s did – with shock, denial, and tears.  But then what?   How would you spend your remaining months or weeks?

Your life situation is not the same as your life.

Your life situation, your disability, diagnosis, the people around you . . . those are your life situation.  But your life – how you live, your ability to make choices, how you love – those are your life.  Randy’s life wasn’t pancreatic cancer.  His life was his ability to decide how to face his cancer, his love for his wife, his children, his excitement over computers and learning and teaching, his laughter, joy, and his positive thoughts about humanity.  By focusing on his life, instead of his circumstances, he was able to live every one of his last days fully, and, in his “Last Lecture” to students and colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University, he managed to inadvertently inspire millions to do the same.

I’m preparing to speak to some young people about this topic – to hopefully teach them to intentionally define their lives rather than be defined by their circumstances.  This is sacred work to my mind — our young people are at risk.  They are flooded with the same messages that affect us so deeply, and they are even less equipped to process it into positive thoughts effectively.



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