Each step we take is one closer to tragedy. And usually simultaneously a step away from a tragedy. For Jerry White, a single step threw his world into turmoil, but also sent him on a road that would lead to helping thousands who've seen their lives shattered by tragedy.
Whether it is the death of a loved one, a serious injury, or any other type of tragic event, we will all be faced with times in our lives where all that matters to us is reduced to a single moment of tragedy. For White, that moment came in 1984, when hiking with friends in Israel, where he was attending school. White stepped on a landmine, losing a leg and nearly his life.
The experience was a turning point in White's life, but not just in the obvious ways. From tragedy came tenacity, and White has spent his years since working to ease the emotional and physical pain of others. Co-founder of Survivor Corps and a leader of the International Campaign to ban landmines, White has been a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
In his new book "I Will Not Be Broken: 5 Steps to Overcoming a Life Crisis" (2008, St. Martin's Press), White expresses his philosophies on how to both survive and thrive when life's dark side comes calling. Using interviews from countless survivors he's worked with over the years, White has put together a tome that is part self-help book, part inspirational story, and all positivity. It is at once the story of his own survival, as well as how we all have a choice when crisis takes over our lives.
There is little that is groundbreaking in "I Will Not Be Broken," but that is not the point. The five steps White gives are basic in premise, but with White's experience both as a survivor and a friend to survivors, each step has a poignancy and depth that matches the author's spirit. When combined with the thoughts of others who have endured everything on the spectrum from the loss of family, the loss of body parts, depression and overcoming disease, "I Will Not Be Broken" becomes a mesmerizing guidebook of how to overcome life's trials.
The five steps, along with excerpts from White and his "co-writers" that show what surviving means, are:
Face Facts: "I knew from the first phone call that Omri was dead in the brain and wouldn't recover. I'm here to do the hardest thing. I know Omri wouldn't want to live this way. This is not about me as a mother. It's about him. He's my son, and I will do the right thing for him, just like I always have since the day he was born." -- Irit, on her son's fatal accident and how she heeded his wishes, giving doctors permission to allow him to die so that his organs could be donated.
Choose Life: "My greatest satisfaction is knowing I can help others. It is surprising to see other survivors arrive in hospitals who are going through the same process I did. They are like me. They look at me, I talk to them, and they can see that I went through a similar experience and that I survived. Then the next time I visit them, or run into them, they are showing a completely different face. That joy is something that cannot be compared to anything. Wow. I am part of making another person happy." -- Jesus Martinez, an El Salvador native who lost both his legs in a landmine accident.
Reach Out: "One must find peers, friends, and family to break the isolation and loneliness that come in the aftermath of crisis. We have to let the people in our life into our life. In our hour of need, we may even depend on the grace of mere acquaintances or total strangers. Some will surprise us, coming out of the woodwork to help. Others - very often our best buddies and closest siblings - will disappoint us terribly." -- White.
Get Moving: "I struggled with depression since I was nineteen. I couldn't stay in college, so I dropped out. I ended up in the Army during Vietnam, When you are depressed like I was, you feel like you are underwater, or like you are under water, or like moving in glue. I really had no energy to socialize. I went through a divorce. I left work for four months. Depression affected everything.
I was lucky to find a great therapist. I would give 50 percent credit for my personal recovery to the therapist and my medication. But I had to do get myself to appointments and take my meds ... I had to establish some semblance of routine. I had to make myself take lunch breaks and visit a nearby church. I had to keep the wheels turning.
I now see people homeless on the street, pushing their carts, moving along. I really admire their strength, even with all their problems, depression, addiction, whatever they are. They must be so strong to move through each day. I don't underestimate what that takes." -- Jerry, a doctor and tenured professor.
Give Back: "To give back means to share. You can't keep yourself to yourself. There is more to us than we think. As a survivor, you are in a unique position to inspire others to heal and fulfill their potential. Thriving requires it." -- White.
Despite the obvious opportunity to allow "I Will Not be Broken," become a pious lecture from a survival guru, White instead allows each step to meld into the next, with the interviews with survivors mingling with his own history and personal experience. Each story is its own lesson from those of different cultures, beliefs and status and White incorporates them into his own tale and philosophies. Far from preachy, White is much more cheerleader than sage, and combines a sense of idealism along with a sense of humor.
The stories from survivors both obscure and famous make "I Will Not Be Broken," a page turner. During a time he was with Princess Diana working to ban landmines, White recounts he and others telling of the day their lives truly changed. He gives his date of April 12, 1984 when the landmine took his leg. With a laugh, Diana chimes in with her own date - July 29, 1981 - the date of her marriage to Prince Charles.
In the end, "I Will Not Be Broken," is both a great read and a valuable guidebook. White readily admits to being a "deep-rooted" optimist, and his optimism is contagious. Combined with his own history as both a survivor and an ally to survivors around the globe, White is able to take what is essentially a self-help book to a higher level. Non-partisan and favoring no particular religion while being inclusive of all, White's voice shines through with hope and love. And as each of our journeys head toward and away from tragedy, the optimism, hope and love that White shares benefits all.
"I Will Not Be Broken" Web site
"I Will Not Be Broken" at Women & Children First
Amazon.com page for "I Will Not be Broken"
Interview with Jerry White (YouTube.com video)
Crossposted at Williamkwolfrum.com