Those who embrace life, despite painful events, offer fount of inspiration Triumphing over life's tragedies

Posted: Sunday, May 05, 2002

I am constantly amazed by the tenacity of the human spirit.

One night last week, I talked to my sister on the phone. As I wandered around my apartment, bemoaning my rapidly fading plants -- I wish they'd just tell me when they were thirsty -- she told me a story about one of the families in my church back in Oregon.

It seems an older couple in the congregation recently won custody of their 5-year-old grandson. The couple is in their 60s, and the last thing they planned for their retirement was parenthood. But when they saw that their grandson was growing up in an impoverished and potentially dangerous environment, they decided to forgo their plans and take him in.

According to my sister, this little boy, used to wearing the same clothes for a week at a time and sleeping crammed in the corner of a one-room trailer with 12 other people, is thriving in his grandparents' home. He especially enjoys "helping" in the garden.

Last weekend, as he helped outside, he paused, looked up at his grandma and asked, "How do you spell the 'wa' sound?"

She asked for an example, not exactly sure what the child was getting at.

"Like in 'I wuv you,'" replied the child.

On the surface, it's just one of those "cute kid" statements. But on another level, it's amazing. This child has probably already seen his lifetime's share of hard times, and still he smiles, he laughs, he loves.

I have seen the same miracle in my own family. Today would have been my parents' 24th wedding anniversary, except my father died nearly 11 years ago. It was likely the most difficult experience any of us had ever faced -- or ever will. Yet it wasn't until I was older -- old enough to think about relationships and my own future -- that I started to understand how hard his death must have been on my mother.

Still, 11 years later, my mother is happily remarried, planning a new husband's birthday and looking to celebrate seven years of marriage in September.

That her heart could mend, that she could be willing to open herself to the risks of a new relationship, a new marriage, astounds -- and inspires -- me.

So often, we think of people as fragile creatures. To some extent, we are. Our hearts can be broken in the blink of an eye. We can be hurt by simple words, looks and changes. And none of us will live forever.

One of my cousins, a pastor living in Anchorage, visited me this week and we talked about the many accidents and tragedies she has seen in her congregation in recent months.

Alaska, she said, is unlike any place either of us has ever lived. It will kill. And yet people go on leaving their houses, taking chances and living their lives.

The year 2001 was a painful one -- for me, for many of us. It felt like every time I turned around, the world crashed down one more time.

But the truth is the hard times don't last forever, and when they are over it is time to start again.

Human creatures are resilient -- they are stronger than the plants in my apartment, the little and big pains in life, the tumbling rocks, both metaphoric and literal, in our world.

Spending these last three months in Alaska has helped me see that.

As the long winter finally ends and the sun brightens the sky once again, I am taking the hint: It's time to step out the door, embrace both life and "wuv" and take my chances.

Jenni Dillon is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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