We all know people whose perspective on life has been twisted by bad luck or poor decisions. Perhaps they’ve lost a leg, or a job, or their marriage has fallen through. They have reacted badly to life’s setbacks and have been so consumed by self pity and bitterness that we run a mile when they approach lest we become contaminated by their anger and negativity. Of course not everyone reacts like that. Many deal well with their difficulties and rise above the setbacks.
There have been many shocks in my life – my burning accident and it’s aftermath; dealing with my son Alan’s struggle with spina bifida and hydrocephalus and his death at 22 months were the major ones. I freely admit I didn’t handle either very well, but learned in time to adapt and cope, to accentuate the positives in life and came to realise there were plenty of reasons to be grateful.
I was lucky. I guess there was something within me that made me rise above adversity: I took control of my life and by doing so shaped my destiny. Of course my wife played a huge part and I freely acknowledge that.
When I looked in the mirror as a teenager and saw this scarred face looking back my eyes welled up with tears as I looked with pity and wondered, why me? Why couldn’t it have been someone else with that face? Well, accidents happen: I ended up with a burned face, someone else died in a road accident, or ended up in a wheelchair. Life is a lottery and lots of bad things happen. Friends of mine have died in road accidents, drowned, suffered fatal strokes and heart attacks, died of cancer. Others took their own lives, or had to retire early through illness. There’s no magic formula for life. You can eat the right foods, drink moderately or abstain, forsake cigarettes and something comes along to either incapacitate or kill you, or perhaps it’s losing your job. Life does suck at times, but perspective is important. Make the most of what you have for it may be taken from you before you can blink.
Which is why I’m grateful for what I have, scars and all. I can’t change my face. Once I accepted that then I could get on with my life. There are many burns victims, some with less extensive scarring than myself, who have struggled to adjust. Hard as it may be to believe, but I feel lucky to have found a wonderful wife, had great kids and a decent career. I am grateful to be in good physical shape (if a trifle overweight), to have some pretty loyal friends.
I’m closing in on 61 years now, a time when you take stock of your life and wonder what it was all about. On balance it was pretty good, which may come as a surprise to some of you given my past. But not every day was filled with tragedy or self pity – there were many good days. I know what real pain is because I have perspective as a young adult who found it difficult adjusting to the way I looked and how I perceived the world judging me; and as a parent watching helplessly as his son battled for his survival and died. Of the two experiences the latter was without doubt the worst. There is no more helpless and excruciatingly painful feeling than knowing that there is nothing you can do to save your child.
And yet… you have to pick yourself up and accentuate the positive. You may not see it at the time, but life goes on. You dust yourself down after a time and immerse yourself in the world. I often wondered when Alan was going through one of his periodic crises, why me? It was the same question I asked myself when I was a frightened teenager unable to live with my own face and scared of what the future had in store for me, forgetting that tragedy is all around us. Some months before Alan’s death a neighbour’s child collapsed and died from a brain haemorrhage. A neighbour’s teenage daughter would die in a car crash, another’s son would be knocked down and killed by a drunken driver. All that within a small estate.
Time would be a great healer with both my face and Alan’s death. I can’t change the past (or my face), but I can make the most of the time I have left – and hope it’s pain free and lasts a few decades. So, here’s to feeling lucky and I hope you, like me, accept whatever life throws at you.