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September 13, 2019 Friday 10:26:17 AM IST

Battered, Not Shattered


Born into a circus family in Germany, Karl Wallenda and his brother Herman Wallenda mesmerized the world for years with their daredevil high wire acts without the use of a safety net. Known as the Flying Wallendas, they traveled the world as the leading performers of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. As the years went by,more family members joined the troupe, making the Wallendas one of the most recognized names in the world of the circus.

While they continued to have tremendous success, they met with tragedy in 1962. During a stunt performance in the city of Detroit,their seven-person chair pyramid on the high wire collapsed, resulting in the death of Karl Wallenda’s son-in-law Richard Faughnan and Wallenda’s nephew Dieter Schepp. The rest of the team members, including Wallenda, were seriously injured. Immediately, all the scheduled shows were cancelled mourning the death of the troupe members.

People in the circus world thought the Wallendas would never comeback after recovering from this disaster. However, within a fewdays, the other troupe members of the Wallenda family returned to the high wire act. When people wondered aloud as to how the family members could return to the high wire act so soon, their leader Karl Wallenda said, “To be on the wire is life. All else is waiting.”

Bouncing back

After tragedy struck, the Wallenda family mourned the loss of their loved ones;however, they bounced back in no time. In fact, those who were not involved in the accident, immediately taking the bull by the horns,resumed their high wire act. For them, as Wallenda said, to be on the wire was life. Hence, they were determined and not afraid to return to their routine high wire acts.

It is obvious that they were physically and mentally tough people since a tragedy could not crush nor dampen their spirits. But most of us are not like them. When we face a serious challenge or a tragedy in life, we are often crushed, becoming totally helpless. As a result, some of us plunge into total darkness not knowing what to do and where to go. The story of the Wallendas, however, reminds us that the only thing to do in these painful circumstances is to return to the high wire of life.

This is easier said than done. It is often said that time heals all things. But Rose Kennedy, mother of the assassinated American President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), once made the following observation, “It has been said, time heals all wounds. I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” For many people this could be their experience. They do not feel that time really heals anything. Hence, what can we do to overcome our pain and return to normal life?

Lessons from life

Robert L Veninga and James Spradley were bosom friends. They were like brothers. Their families were also close to each other. But the death of Spradley due to an unexpected illness shattered their world. It was especially painful for Veninga who mourned the death of his friend, more than anyone else. Life became unbearable for him and he was at the point of a nervous breakdown. During that time, he happened to visit a hospital where he met several people who were struggling as he was in the midst of tragedy and total confusion.

“Will they ever find peace in their life?”he asked himself. As Veninga was a professor in health administration at the University of Minnesota in the United States,he set out to do scientific researchto find how people cope with tragedies in their life. After thoroughly studying the lives of 100 people adversely affected by different kinds of tragedies in life, Veningawrote A Gift of Hope – How People Survive Their Tragedies(1985).

According to his findings, family members and friends play a very important role in helping people cope with tragedies in their lives. Similarly, systematic counseling also helps to a great extent. However, Veninga found that nothing helps people like a strong faith in God as a loving father. Even people who reject God, in the midst of a tragedy, turnto Him and find comfort and consolation, Veninga discovered.

How is it that we find comfort and inner peace when we turn to God in the midst of our agony? As we are the children of God, when tragedy strikes us, God rushes to our side to heal our wounds, to take away our pain and give us a new life. It is because of his presence in our life that we feel comforted and consoled. If we truly believe in the providence of God and in his love for us, then we will look with a different perspective at the tragic things in our life. Often our tragedies help us to have a better understanding of life, and they tend to strengthen our relationships as we try to console and comfort each other.

Let us not forget that God is with us no matter what happens in our life. Our strong and deep faith in Him will always help us to overcome all our fears and cope successfully with our tragedies,as Veninga found.

Fr. Jose Panthaplamthottiyil, CMI

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