A recent post of one of my blogging buddies, Kairos, featured an interview with Rabbi Abraham Twerski, on how a lobster responds to it’s body growing ‘uncomfortable’ inside a confining shell. To grow, it finds protection from predators and casts off it’s old shell. It then develops a new shell. When the lobster has outgrown it again, this cycle repeats itself during the life of the lobster.
He relates this to people who seek a drug for life’s discomforts who then avoid having to face and “grow” from these challenges. I remember there being some statistics that the United States consumes about eighty percent of the world’s opioid medications, and some sixth of the population are on some form of painkiller or tranquilizer. But it is not solely an American addiction. All over the world, people are trying various “painkillers” to avoid the aches that life continually presents the human condition. Some have real challenges while others have perceived ills the medical industry sustains.
For some it is a challenge just to control one’s body or mind, due to illness, injury, disease, or genetic condition – rheumatoid arthritis, cystic fibrosis, heart murmurs, or cancers. For others it might be a predisposition to addiction especially alcohol or prescription drug misuse, marijuana, and so on. I had my own unique medical challenges due to a recessive gene that manifested most in my first twenty years. Surgeries, specialists, and medications in my youth never treated the psyche. With my parent’s divorce and frequent moves, my maturation through my teen years was as much a rebellious reaction to my family as it was dealing with schoolmates in each new school I attended. I thought military service would fill the gaps in my character I perceived were present. (Perhaps if Percocet was available in my high school years, I would never have been motivated to enter military service.)
My late father is more relevant and impressive to me in the thirty years since his passing, than in my youth. He suffered a brain tumor and the resulting surgery in his early thirties left him debilitated. In my youth I did not appreciate that he had been an accomplished athlete, scholar, and rising star in the aerospace and space industries. Reading essays, reviews, and his letters preserved by a family member, I realize how circumstances can dictate your response, or you can overcome through intense effort and will to respond in your own terms. People often initially mistook my father, with his cane or in his wheelchair as debilitated mentally. It was in this setting I first heard him quote Latin that he learned in High School.
Illegitimi non carborundum. (Don’t let the bastards wear you down)
It seems I have inherited both my father’s technical as well as linguistic abilities. I found during my high school years that I had an ability in foreign languages. I learned then to speak, read and write in both Spanish and French. I could also hear and generally determine what origin, regionally or nationally, a person’s accent or dialect revealed. In college I learned to speak, read and write Russian. Choosing a technical program during a military career, I have used it successfully for forty years but it was never my ”gift”. I have had to constantly study to be successful. Yet the military leadership skills I learned have enabled me to “adapt and overcome” in many different applications.
Whatever you set your mind and ambition to do, to the limits that you are able physically and mentally, you can do. Once I had a fear of heights. I overcame that by a job requirement that had me ascend a hundred foot mast on several occasions for work (in the Navy). I took up rappelling cliffs at one point in life for entertainment. Public speaking was another challenge I faced for many years, but overcame through continually being put in situations and jobs where I had to present ideas and be succinct in conveying the ideas to important decision-makers.
As a forty-five year old, I got the opportunity I had wanted for the whole of my military life, in being selected for Chief Petty Officer. In my particular situation, I could have done the minimum and perhaps been a functional though uninspiring “leader”. I chose to do what was uncomfortable. Though I held a full-time job in the opposite direction from my home than where I went to train, I arrived every morning at 5 AM at the military base to train, exercise, and be motivated with my peers. And several times a week, return in the evenings for additional training. The outcome of this was to receive invaluable mentoring that colored the last fifteen years of my life – in more ways than military skills.
Practice. Training. Focus. Desire.
We are the amazing handiwork of God and our experience through “discomfort”. Never rest on your past success, nor your past circumstances to define your future. As my friend wrote to me, challenges in life have left me as a really big lobster. However, diet and exercise seem to be working. My “shell” is not as ill-fitting as it once was.