one survives on their own, and no one thrives alone,
either. Yes, you might feel an excruciating
loneliness after one of life's hurtful blows.
But we are simply not built to survive solo.
Isolation will kill us, not protect us. We
humans are social animals made for community. Even
when family and friends annoy the hell out of us,
they remain an essential part of our survivorship.
One must find peers, friends, and family to break
the isolation and loneliness that come in the
aftermath of crisis. We have to let the people
in our life into
our life. In our hour of need, we may even
depend on the grace of mere acquaintances or total
strangers. Some will surprise us, coming out
of the woodwork to help. Others -- very often
our best buddies and closest siblings -- will
disappoint us terribly.
I often told myself during points of crisis when I
felt tempted to isolate, "Dammit, just make a
call to someone . . . " To survive, we
must find empathetic souls -- sympathetic
surrogates. Our inner victim
may shun this, preferring to retreat into a
shell. However, our inner survivor
craves people. We need to find people who
understand what we are going through. Social
support is absolutely essential.
I have never been a big believer in the
"self-made man." We all live off
previous generations, combined gene pools, and
preexisting social networks. We have benefited
from anyone and everyone who has ever been kind to
us, encouraged us, taught us, mentored us, or
Still, when you are in a deep, dark, relentless pit
of pain, it's hard to think of others. But
make no mistake about it, they are there.
Others are in the room with you, in the wings of the
hospital with you, in prayer for you, in kitchens
cooking for you, on cell phones spreading the word
on your behalf. In trauma, you may have become
the lead character, but there is an ensemble cast of
participants and a host of witnesses. How you
keep the door open to relationships will determine
the extent to which you are able to thrive years
I benefited greatly from social support while in
Israel. Frankly, if you're going to step on a
landmine, you might want
to do it there, where trauma is sadly normal.
You'll find a lot of peers and families who have
known your suffering -- they've been there.
And when you share a hospital room with others in
the same predicament, you don't have a lot of time
to brood alone.
In the hospital, I shared a room with "guys
like me." Hundreds were getting blown up
in Lebanon at the time. If I'd come back to
the States I would have had plenty of great friends
and family, but no one who had experienced war
injuries. Back in Boston, it was difficult for
my relatives to understand; few people were thinking
about war and terrorism, let alone minefields.
In Israel I was normal. I had peers and we
supported each other. It was another key to
Friends and classmates from my studies at Hebrew
University heard about my accident and many made the
three-hour pilgrimage repeatedly, taking two or
three buses from Jerusalem to the hospital in Safed.
My room was an open-door party place of sorts.
They'd bring guitars and cookies and music.
The atmosphere was so Israeli casual that friends
even slept on spare hospital beds. I suspect
they wouldn't have allowed that at Mass General in
With so many people coming and going, it was clear
that social support -- a primary ingredient for
overcoming crises -- was not missing from my
life. Perhaps I was spoiled with too much, if
there can be such a thing. There were days
when I was exhausted by support . . . I didn't want
to have everyone and his uncle pouring through to
gawk or make small talk with me. But still,
too much is better than not enough (if you have to
choose). I certainly can't complain.
Fritz and David remained my core support, changing
bedpans and urine bottles on demand, washing me,
shaving me, helping to deal with the basics, while
still keeping their sense of humor as I yelled each
time they knocked the bed without warning,
triggering new ripples of pain. I also recall
fondly the blond nurses on missions from Denmark --
Krista, Anne, Hannah, Irene -- saintly beings who
brought light (and shortbread cookies) with each
visit. My Jerusalem classmates brought comfort
food, good humor, and music, including Ray, who
played guitar and sang the same hymns again and
again, at my insistence.
A few weeks after my accident, an Israeli stranger
paid me a little visit -- an extraordinary moment in
which another survivor reached out to me. He
walked up to my bed and said that he, too, had
stepped on a landmine, but in Lebanon.
"Can you tell which leg I lost?" He
was wearing blue jeans and walked with a perfect and
steady gait back and forth in front of my bed.
Was he showing off? Was I in the mood for this
game? "I can't tell." I really
couldn't. "That's my point," he
said. "The battle is not down there, but
inside you, in here and up here," pointing to
his heart and then to his head. "By the
way, do you still have your knee?"
Yes. "Can you still have
kids?" I think so; yes, it still
works. "Then what you have is a nose
cold. You'll get over it."
He turned and walked out of my room as steadily as
he entered. I never met him again, and to this
day I don't remember his name. But I'll always
remember that visit, that moment. It posed a
choice, a mental fork in the road. I thought
to myself, If
this Israeli guy can do it, I certainly can.
Maybe I'd be okay in the end. Maybe I would be
able to walk and then run and swim and play tennis
again. Women would still be attracted to
me. Maybe I'd eventually start a family.
It dawned on me that losing my leg wasn't the same
as losing my life.
I believe this provocative peer visit was the
beginning of reclaiming my power. Just as
Albert Schweitzer describes, "At times our own
light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from
another person. Each of us has cause to think
with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the
flame within us." Well, if you're out
there, my anonymous amputee visitor, shalom
vey todah hevri -- "Peace and thank
you, my friend."
* * * * *
loss of a loved one, a painful divorce,
or a serious physical injury---we must all,
at one point, face tragedy---unavoidable
moments that divide our lives into
and “after.” How do we muscle our
through tough times and emerge stronger,
wiser---even grateful for our struggle?
In 1984, author Jerry White lost his leg---
and almost his life---in a landmine accident.
He has endured the pain of loss and the
challenge of rebuilding. As co-founder
Survivors Corps, White has interviewed
thousands of victims of tragedy. With
this book, he shares what he has learned.
White outlines a very specific five-step
program to coping with disaster;
to achieving strength and hope; and
to turning tragedy into triumph.