Notes on surviving

‘Since I survived that year,’ he always said, ‘I shall survive anything,’ – Things Fall Apart, pg. 19

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

I’ve been fortunate enough to not have to endure a year of absolutely terrible circumstances. Call it the ease of youth or call it luck, but the number of good days has outweighed the bad days for me. As I get older, that balance might shift toward the other end. It might not. Either way, the years will progress and I will have some bad days and some good days and I understand that.

Not everyone is so lucky.

Lately, I’ve found myself watching the Biography Channel in the afternoons and early evenings. I watch as formerly skeptical celebrities tell of their encounters with ghosts, and I listen as Keith David and Bill Kurtis narrate true tales of murder and robbery. I find entertainment from these stories, but none of them really stay in my memory beyond the evening. Then I begin watching the show “I Survived…,” and there is a silence in my head like a heavy weight. People who had survived horrible situations–attempted murders, rapes, or being trapped in a firestorm–recount their experiences with gruesome details, completely devoid of dramatic reenactments. The survivors sit in a studio in front of a black background, their faces and voices emerging from what appears to be the very darkness of death.

Currently, the story lodged in my mind is the story of Mary Vincent. She was a teenage runaway, and in 1978 she was hitchhiking in California when she got into a car with a man named Lawrence Singleton. Singleton brutally raped her and cut off both of her arms. From what I remember from the segment on “I Survived…,” Mary Vincent said that by the time she was able to get help she had lost the majority of blood in her body; what was left in her was toxic. The following interview is not from “I Survived…,” but it does feature Mary telling part of her story:

From survivors like Mary Vincent, we can understand the strength of the human spirit. There are millions of stories of survival in our world today, and most of us wouldn’t even consider asking about them. Perhaps we’re afraid to cause the pain to swell. Perhaps there are times when we don’t want to hear the disturbing details. Quite frankly, these are not dinnertime conversations. Yet when a survivor stands to speak, we must listen closely, and recognize that a human being has seen hell, has stared at death, and returned scarred but alive. They were only human, and though there is no easy road back from hell, the mere fact that a human being survived the journey to hell is worth honoring and drawing strength from.

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