“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” ~ Marcus Aurelius
My eighteen year old cousin, Savannah Leigh Burns, was recently diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL). Its onset was rather sudden and took Savannah and her family completely by surprise. The first two weeks in the hospital have been frighteningly volatile, to say the least, yet Savannah’s spirit remains as strong as ever, despite her present physical impairment after having suffered a stroke early in her treatment.
Savannah is a fighter and while it may sound cliche, to know her is to love her. Her friends and family describe her as fearless, beautiful, funny, smart, strong-willed and capable of conquering anything she sets her mind to. If I had to pick a word to describe her, it would be courageous.
As you might know, the word courage derives from the Latin word cor, meaning heart. If there is anything that describes this precious angel it is this, for she is ALL heart! The outpouring of support Savannah and her family have received from places near and far, from friends, acquaintances and people she has never met is a tremendous blessing and it amazes me to see how many people have been touched by Savannah’s radiant and magnetic personality, both backed by her enormous heart.
These types of sudden changes really get you thinking. Beyond the concern to help those in need such as Savannah by donating blood, for instance, by taking on new responsibilities if you are a co-worker of someone who is sick or by providing meals to the family members whose lives are also changed dramatically, you might ask yourself “am I holding back anywhere in my life?” or perhaps “what can I do to be a more generous person, to be a greater blessing to those with whom I am privileged to associate?”
No matter how hard we try to control life there are, and likely always will be, factors beyond our control. Some choose to see a higher power as being responsible for their ills, justifying this belief with the notion that we are mysteriously given challenges to overcome as a test. You might have heard someone say “He gave it to you because He knew you could handle it.” Others see life as nothing more than a stream of random mutations guided not by Providence, but by chance and the more extreme among them adhere to the notion of fatalism, which is rooted in the conviction that we are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do.
My own belief is: (1) that a benevolent God would not contradict Himself and (2) that everything that happens to you is not always a result of your own personal actions or emotional state. You have the privilege and the responsibility to handle as creatively as you can everything that life brings to your doorstep. More often than not, as Marcus Aurelius observed, you do not have power over outside events, but you almost always (except in cases of mental imbalance) have power over your mind. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not what happens to you that matters,the important thing is how you handle what happens. You are wise to exercise the power you do have while never wasting time bemoaning that which you don’t have.
We live in an interconnected world and the decisions made by others – both contemporaries and predecessors – have a tangible impact on your life, health and function. Just as with APL where an imbalance in the blood can cause trouble in other parts of the body, bad decisions by a total stranger who lives in another part of the world can reverberate around the world through a chain of causality and wreak havoc in your otherwise perfect day. The health of the human race is established by the sum total of the health of every individual. Therefore, when one suffers, the whole body suffers.
Conversely, when one overcomes, the whole body is given a shot of the spirit of victory. Savannah’s life to this point has been a tremendous inspiration to many and I have no doubt that she will continue to do as she has always done for as long as I have been privileged to know her – inspire, challenge, bless and give heart to everything she touches – for all the days of her life.
I love you, Savannah.