Counselor's Corner: Attitude: It can make or break you

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By John Lapp

The story is told of the colorful, nineteenth-century gifted violinist, Niccolo Paganini, who on one occasion was performing before a packed house, playing a difficult piece of music, accompanied by a full orchestra giving him magnificent support.
But ... suddenly one string on his violin snapped and of course hung down from his violin. While reportedly he began to perspire, he continued to play beautifully. Soon, another string popped, and then a third string. Now, here was the master violinist with only one string left. What must be done, he did! He reportedly nodded to the conductor to begin the expected encore, turned back to the crowd, shouted “Paganini ... and one string!” He finished the piece on one string while the conductor and the audience were reportedly shaking their heads in amazement. A true attitude of both fortitude and gratitude for the audience who had come to hear him play.
That type of attitude was also displayed by one bearing the name of Dr. Victor Frankl, a bold and courageous Jewish man who became a prisoner of war by the Nazis before he was finally liberated. They had stripped him of everything considered valuable, he had lost his freedom, his home, his family, and all his possessions. What Dr. Frankl did about his plight in life was directed by his attitude. Should he be bitter, or forgive? ... .indeed, a difficult choice to be made. They had taken from him all of those things he had possessed, and owned, but they could not take away the choices he still had within himself. Should he give up, or should he go on ... with life as it now was? Reportedly this great man decided to go on. He chose not to be bitter.
That type of thing happened to Father John Mears, my brother-in-law. Both he and his wife had lost previous spouses in death. John has written his memoirs in a wonderful book entitled: “The Philippine Years,” while he and his wife, at the time, along with their infant daughter, were prisoners of war under Japanese control for several years in World War II. To read the book is wonderful, but conversing with him about those years made it more real, recalling both painful and wonderful memories as God took him and his family through those difficult years. He kept on ministering to those who were also captives, never leaving his calling as an Episcopal priest, now with a different congregation than ever before.
Words can never adequately convey the incredible impact of our attitude toward life. I recently was reading from a regular monthly magazine published by the U.S. Marine Corps, where I served for six years 1957-1963. In the magazine, several stories were presented about how some combat Marines, coming out of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, have been diagnosed PTSD, (post-traumatic stress disorder) or another similar type of malady. Some of the Marines have survived quite well, while many others have committed suicide, not being able to overcome the insufferable effects the disorder has had on their lives. Someone has said, many years ago, “life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond to it” (author anonymous). Also, how can we explain how one athlete responds differently than another athlete, both about the same age, with the same injury and both in excellent physical health. One of them soon gets back into the game, while the other struggles and maybe never gets back ... ever.
It appears, then, that attitudes are very important in life. Maybe each of us has had one or more of incidents similar to what happened to the violinist, and all we have left is one string. When my attitude is right, there seems to be no barrier, or challenge, or dream, or plan that is impossible, so I tackle that with as much ‘vim and vinegar’ (an old saying) as I can muster up at the time. If the violinist had only concentrated on the frustration of the other three strings that had popped, he may have thrown his violin down on the stage, stomped (or slumped) off in anger, frustration and being embarrassed and left his audience feeling sorry for him, but no. He finished the piece the only way he knew how ... he played his violin with fervor on the only thing he had left ... one string, only one string.
Circumstances happen that could easily crush any of us, but how are some able to work through the circumstances as a challenge and come through those times victoriously, while others crumble under the “crush”. Often for the latter group the only choices may be blame or self-pity, perhaps both. Blaming can keep us from enjoying a healthy measure of both health and happiness. It has been said that when blame and/or self-pity is the case, we seem to sort-of curl up in a fetal position and invite one person: me.
Finally, a personal word for some of you. You may be intelligent, capable. But, your attitude is getting in the way of you being successful and being able to enjoy life to its’ fullest. That can be changed, if you so choose. You may need to talk to a counselor about how to go about making that change, or at least to a close friend who has your best interest at heart. Of course you may have a trusted relative who knows how to listen, as well as advise, and talking to that person or those persons may do you well and serve some important needs in your life. Life has much more to offer you than to sit in the middle of your pity, and self-loathing! Begin getting on to better things in life before life takes its’ toll. Play hard, and play again and again on what’s left: your ‘one string’.