A few months ago I heard a story about the life of Esther Perel, a notable sex therapist.  (Don’t worry, this post is not nearly as tantalizing or scandalous as it now sounds like it’s going to be…) 

Esther’s parents met at the end of World War II after spending five years in concentration camps.  They were Polish Jews.  Her father, one of nine children, was the sole survivor of his family.  Her mother, one of seven children, was also the sole survivor of her family.   Their entire families were slaughtered by the Nazis.  They were worked and abused and treated worse than animals in the most inhumane of conditions.  They lived in fear every single day.  Coming out of this trauma and darkness, they met, married, and moved to Belgium, settling into an area with many other survivors of the Holocaust.  Esther talks about her childhood among this community of people deeply affected by war and atrocities that most of us will never even begin to understand.  As a child growing up she began to notice that there were two types of survivors in her neighborhood.  There were those who didn’t die and there were those that came back to life.  Those that didn’t die lived their lives hiding in their houses, the shades drawn, the furniture covered in plastic.  They lived in fear.  Then there were those that reclaimed their lives and lived with a capital L.  Her parents were the latter.  She wrote, “They came out of that experience wanting to charge at life with a vengeance and to make the most of each day. They both felt that they had been granted a unique gift: living life again.”

That gave me full-body chills when I heard it.  There were those that didn’t die and there were those that came back to life.  We are all survivors of something.   And I don’t mean for a split second to compare any of our little first-world problems to the Holocaust.  Seriously.  But still, we all go through hard times.  Bad things happen to all of us.  We lose people we love.  We struggle financially.  We get sick.  We get hurt.  We watch loved ones get hurt.  There is not a person on this planet that is immune to the crap that happens in life.  But we get to choose how we respond to it.  There were those that didn’t die and there were those that came back to life.   

You get to choose.

One more little story, this one from the life of Elizabeth Smart.  I’m sure most are familiar with her traumatic experience of being kidnapped at knife point from her bed as a 14-year-old and being forced to live in horrific conditions for the next 9 months.  When she was finally rescued and back at home with her family, her mom pulled her aside and gave her what she says is the most important advice she ever received.  

“Elizabeth, what this man has done is terrible. There aren’t any words that are strong enough to describe how wicked and evil he is! He has taken nine months of your life that you will never get back again. But the best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy. To move forward with your life. To do exactly what you want.

 Be happy, Elizabeth.  Just be happy.  If you go and feel sorry for yourself, or if you dwell on what has happened, if you hold on to your pain, that is allowing him to steal more of your life away.  So don’t you do that!  Don’t you let him!  There is no way he deserves that.  Not one more second of your life.  You keep every second for yourself.  You keep them and be happy.  God will take care of the rest.”

How profound.  If anyone has a built-in excuse to play the victim card, it’s Elizabeth Smart.  Or people that spent five years in Nazi concentration camps.  The fact that these people chose to move on and make their lives vibrant and meaningful is just profoundly inspiring to me.  And it was their own choice to do so.  They chose to make their lives amazing despite what they had gone through.

There were those that didn’t die and there were those that came back to life. 

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