Austrian-born and famed neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Emil Frankl once said that "The freedom to choose how to respond" is the last freedom to be ceded by human beings when stripped of all others. He theorized this when in the midst of fighting for his own survival while imprisoned in a concentration camp during the Holocaust.
Dr. Frankl would go on to live a full life -- built on helping others find the meaning and purpose to theirs. He would use his theory and coinciding adversity to educate and help his fellow-man in unprecedented ways that would make his profound existence a testament to the "potter's wheel" that fashioned such an incredible human being.
I can only surmise that James Foley, Steven Sotloff and David Haines rose from similar potter's wheels given the recounts of their final days by their loved ones. The comfort and strength they offered those awaiting their return was unfathomable especially in light of their circumstances and inevitable fates. As a parent, myself, I often wonder what caused these gentlemen to choose to respond in such heroic ways. What was it in their upbringings and natures that invoked such courage, sensitivity, and empathy during times of grave despair? And how many of us display even a tenth of such character during moments of lessor adversity?
Pastor Joel Osteen noted in a recent sermon the interchangeable relationship between the potter's wheel reference and adversity. He stated that a man's true potential could only be met if he stayed on that potter's wheel even through the most difficult of times, for only then would one be prepared to meet his larger purpose. I happen to believe this is true. I believe we arrive to our fates well prepared given we are accepting of the molding we must go through to do so. That does not mean that the circumstances we arrive to are always honkey dory. I'm sure none of those individuals mentioned above would reminisce about the grand ole days when they were imprisoned, but I would hasten to guess that the challenges each of them faced leading up to them helped to shape how they met every one of the tumultuous moments endured.
It is something to think about when raising our own children. No doubt, it is our natural instincts as parents to protect our kids from any harm. To watch them suffer is harder on us -- many times -- than on them. And yet, if we remove them from the potter's wheel every time life knocks them to the ground, we stand in the way of our children acquiring some of the most valuable lessons life has to offer, not to mention rob them of the character that arises from adversity as well as the opportunity to achieve their true potential. In most cases, learning to stand tall on your own two feet means learning to get back up on them by yourself to begin with.
I was clearly reminded of this last weekend as I watched four of my five children struggle back to their feet in an effort to regain their stances previously lost from unexpected emotional blows. But the example that really struck home to me was that of a little boy who was being taught to ice skate by his father on Sunday.
A child of approximately five years of age, this little boy's efforts to master the skill of ice skating were met with continuous falls and cries of despair. The child's father -- who remained within arm's reach of the boy at all times -- responded with continuous words of encouragement and understanding but not once did he move to help the child get up from the ice, less showing him exactly how to do so on his own. What happened? The child eventually got up all by himself. Whether it be frustration, understanding or acceptance that did it, the potter's wheel that father kept his son on proved highly valuable for everyone involved... including me as -- in observing this demonstration -- it reinforced the choices I had deliberately made with my own children in allowing them to work through their particular challenges quite by themselves, despite my standing within arm's reach of each of them at all times as well.
Just like in every one of the cases noted above, the choice of how to respond remains prevalent in our development as individuals and as a people. It's a freedom that knows each of us equally and without prejudice. And it is one we should take stock of now and again as we take our daily seats on our potter's wheels and determine the type of man (woman) and manner in which we want to exit those wheels and meet our futures.
At a time of new beginnings, deep reflection, and forgiveness for so many of us, I think another "Laura" said it best in an incredible song I'd like to share with you in honor of all those who will be celebrating the High Holidays and all those who won't. The song is called, "Blessings." How you choose to respond to it is purely up to you but the wisdom found within is undeniable.
I urge you to listen.