Stories Of People That Made It Through Tough Times

We, humans, are stronger than we think

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Times are tough right now. The world is facing uncertainty. We have never faced a global epidemic on this scale before.

Everything is not falling apart but it is hard to have faith that things will get better.

Some days require mental gymnastics to not fall in the pit of depression.

Humans have survived centuries of hardship, pain, and suffering. There are grand stories of hardship and there are individual stories of suffering. Many have suffered far more than we are suffering now. I have taken comfort from their stories. They survived much worse. We will survive this global epidemic.

1. Nelson Mandela

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Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in a prison cell on an island off the coast of Cape Town. TWENTY-SEVEN years for doing nothing wrong except standing up to hatred, racism, and tyranny. He refused to accept the discrimination and racism of the Apartheid Government and paid a heavy price for saying so.

He never should have gone to prison. He spent almost a third of his life in prison, locked away from those he loved.

He never lost hope or faith and he did not leave prison an angry, bitter man. His son, aged 24 died in a car accident while he was in prison. His mother also died. He was not allowed to attend either funeral. His children had children. His wife was also imprisoned and after her release, she was not permitted to visit him. He was only permitted one letter and one visit every 6 months.

He went into prison a young man and came out, an old one. He survived many weeks of isolation but remained hopeful and humble throughout.

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”
Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

2. Victor Frankl

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Victor Frankl survived one of the worst periods in history; the Holocaust. Before the Second World War, he was a successful psychiatrist married and surrounded by family. After the war, he lost his entire family in the camps, including his pregnant wife. His only surviving family member was his sister.

He survived 3 years in various concentration camps. He suffered extreme hardship, starvation, and inhuman conditions. His experience changed and shaped his philosophy on what it means to live a meaningful life.

In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he recounts stories of prisoners that survived and others who didn’t. Some prisoners committed suicide to escape the camp. Some died of starvation. Frankl found those who survived had something to look forward to post-concentration camp life. Prisoners that gave up hope, died.

Frankl found the prisoners had everything taken away from them, but there was one thing that could not be taken away; their attitude.

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

3. Louis Zamperini

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Louis Zamperini was an Olympic distance runner before World War 2. During the war, he fought for the US Army Air Forces. In 1943, he survived a plane crash. Louis and 2 others, landed in the ocean and were adrift for 47 days with little food and water fending off multiple shark attacks. Zamperini and one crewmate survived.

After being adrift for 47 days, they landed in Japanese territory and become prisoners of war. Zamperini suffered extreme torture and inhuman conditions for 2 years until the end of the war.

He survived the prisoner of war camp and found God after the war which helped him overcome his horrific experience.

“People tell me, “You’re such an optimist.” Am I an optimist? An optimist says the glass is half full. A pessimist says the glass is half empty. A survivalist is practical. He says, “Call it what you want, but just fill the glass.” I believe in filling the glass.― Louis Zamperini, Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In: Lessons from an Extraordinary Life

In the end…

These stories of suffering pale in comparison to a couple of weeks of isolation at home. Nelson Mandel, Victor Frankl, and Louis Zamperini suffered hardship far greater than any of us know.

There is a common thread in their tales of survival; hope. Each had hope that their hardship would end and believed in life after suffering. They refused to become bitter and angry and managed to accomplish great things after their ordeals.

Times are tough. Everyone is suffering. The entire world will be touched by this epidemic. No country is safe. We are all in a state of mourning for the loss of this year and what it might have been. We are allowed to mourn and feel sad. But we must have hope. We will survive this.

There will be life after Corona. There is hope.

I am a Lawyer, Writer, Reader and Traveller. From Johannesburg, South Africa. I am writing to find my voice. Fortune favours the brave.

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