A number of years ago my Dad heard about a speech that was going to be given by an ex-PoW from the Vietnam War. He sat in the audience waiting for the speaker, who was noticeably late. After a few of minutes, from the back of the hall, in walked a tan young man in the white dress uniform of a Navy pilot with the rank of Commander. He ambled down the aisle with great difficulty, needing the aid of a cane. The crowd hushed in silent respect.
After being introduced, he stood at the podium and shared his story. He had catapulted his jet fighter off the deck of a carrier with a couple of others and was on assignment to take out a bridge deep in the enemy controlled territory of Vietnam.
A short time later they identified the target and each in turn dove in to carry out their mission. As he came in fast and low, he unloaded his missiles and pulled back on the yoke to climb out of enemy airspace. As he rose, he felt the sickening thud thud of anti-aircraft fire slam into his plane. The craft shuddered and lost power. His training took over and he pulled the lever to eject from his disabled plane. His mind raced with confusion, but his chute deployed and he thought everything would be fine. When he landed he hit at a weird angle and felt a terrible pain race up one of his legs. He looked down at his blood soaked flight suit and when he cut it away he could see the jagged bone sticking through his skin.
Before he could do anything about his wound, a group of Vietnamese peasants came out of the bushes and attacked him with butcher knives. He did his best to defend himself even though he knew was no match for their numbers. Just at that moment a military truck screeched up and the soldiers chased off the attackers.
The leader shouted some orders and the troops picked up the pilot and roughly threw him in the back of the truck. For 2–3 days he bounced around and was sure he would die in that truck. They finally arrived at the camp where he was to be imprisoned. They unceremoniously treated his compound fracture and then threw him into a filthy, musty cell. He was hungry, sick, and in terrible pain.
Then he found out it could even get worse. Every day a guard would come in to bring him some putrid water and a maggot infested meal. After questioning and screaming at him, this enemy would savagely beat him with a cane-like stick. This was repeated day after day, week after week. It got to where he passionately hated the guard with every fiber of his being. The hate was mutual.
After months of the foul treatment, he knew he would not last much longer, that he was dying, that it was possibly his last day on Earth. He resigned himself to his fate and closed his eyes to welcome the end to his suffering. As he lingered on the verge of death, he heard or, more accurately, felt a voice that said, “It is not your injuries that are killing you; it is your hate.” The message was clear; if he would stop the toxic hate, he could live.
From that moment he decided to change. He decided to redefine his meaning of fun and entertainment. Each day when his adversary came and began beating him, he would smile, even laugh, and sincerely thank his antagonist for the personal attention. As he did that each day, he felt a change, a new power welling up in him. What’s more, he noticed that his former foe was confused and affected by the change too. The hostile floggings soon stopped; it just wasn’t much fun anymore for the guard any longer. The PoW’s attitude change wrought a change in their relationship. They eventually became, in a weird way, friends. When the war ended and he was finally released from his prison, the man who had once been beaten each day for months shook hands with and hugged his previous beater, who was now his buddy.
All of this because he took control of his attitude and redefined his meaning of fun. Few of us will ever have to endure these circumstances and the torture that this Navy pilot had to suffer. But there is much to be gained from his example. By changing our attitude we can control our circumstances, our health, and even our future. There is real power in this knowledge. The old saying that “Life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% how you react to it” is very true. We are in charge of our attitudes. Now go out, apply your attitude, and make it a good day. No! Make it a good life.
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