The importance of resilience

Chapel sermon by Alex Johnson —

I was blind but now I see

“One minute of pain is worth a lifetime of glory” - Louis Zamperini. A statement that directly contrasts all normal thought processes that exist in our conscious brain. But a statement that also outlines what is inevitable when travelling down the long road that leads to contentment. Failure. Rejection. Pain. Whether we like to admit it or not, the idea of failing severely clouds our judgement, making it hard to decipher what is possible from what is impossible. For some, the inability to understand this concept is what destroys them. But for others that are able to push through adversity and be resilient, it is what makes them prosper.

6 years, 3 months and 8 days ago, I went to the optometrist for a routine check up on my eyes. After an extensive variety of vision tests, the doctor concluded that I had somehow acquired a small vision impairment. With little knowledge of what was limiting my eyesight, the doctor recommended me to an eye specialist who again had little clue what was wrong with me. After weeks of deliberation, I was officially diagnosed with an incurable disease in my left eye called Coat’s disease. A rare eye condition that slowly progresses to the complete loss of vision in the affected eye. While a little ironic, the news completely blindsided me. It was sudden and unexpected. In an attempt to retain the little vision I had left, numerous surgeries were carried out, which were all deemed unsuccessful. My left eye was officially beyond saving. It was gone. All in the blink of an eye.

I was told by my doctor that I would have serious trouble completing everyday tasks with a lack of depth perception. Certain things would completely be off the cards. I could never be a pilot or policeman. I was not allowed to play squash. I would have trouble driving. The doctor even had the audacity to suggest that I should quit rugby - the risk of damaging my good eye, being too great. For months afterwards, I was enveloped in the vacuous void, of grief. Where I felt sorry for myself. Where my ‘ever so close’ dreams had vanished out of thin air. I started to worry. Would people look at me differently? Would I ever be able to legitimately compete on the sports field ever again? For a once tenacious and unbreakable 12-year-old boy, my spirit had been knocked down to an all-time low. I was different.

As young people, we have all grown up in an era subject to reassurance. Reassurance that we will achieve, that everything will be fine, that we can have whatever we want. When you come last in an event, you are given a participation award. When you don’t achieve NCEA, you can pick up extra internals to achieve. During adolescence, one of the toughest ages of our life, we are manipulated into thinking that we can’t possibly fail, that we will always succeed. In reality, this is not the case. Failure, rejection, pain is all inevitable. However, it is not the extent of our pain or failure that categorises our strength as an individual, but how we choose to approach the situation, that determines our success

Despite being told that I shouldn’t play rugby, I continued to play and whenever I did the other kids would always remind me, “That I would NEVER be that good with one eye anyway”. While I never thought I would go anywhere in sport, this still hurt. Other kids were dictating my future. Eventually, it led to me asking the question that changed my outlook on my condition. “What could they do that I couldn’t do?” The answer was nothing. “Nobody in your life will tell you what you can do, they will only ever tell you what you can’t do” - Michael Crossland. It was this day I decided to make a choice. To make sure I prove all those who think I will crash and burn wrong. To approach life from a different perspective and rectify what I thought of my situation. By climbing through the pain of my impairment and signing a declaration that my eye would not limit me, I could finally see the bigger picture. Quite literally, “Was blind but now I see”.

Everyone sitting in this room will have to jump a hurdle sometime in their life that they are not sure they can jump. No matter how big or how small it is, it will come. In order to be best prepared, we all need to expose ourselves to as much challenge as possible. With challenge, either comes joy or sorrow. Tragedy or Triumph. No matter the result, the experience will make craft a stronger and more courageous person out of it. When tragedy hits, fate is channelling you down a different path. Use the thought of failure and doubt to fuel the everlasting flame within you. Everything good, lies on the other side of a challenge.

This is my unfinished story of pain, of failure, of rejection. By no means do I think I have it bad. When I look down, I see my hands, I can feel them, I can move them. I am alive. Compared to others out there I have been dealt a good hand. I can walk, I can think for myself, I’m not terminally ill. It is with this that we should remind ourselves every day. We are lucky. While failing a math exam, not getting selected for the top team, or even losing an eye may feel like the worst thing in the world at the time. It’s not. End of story. Others are literally fighting for their life. Fighting for their families. Fighting for their freedom. We are ALL blessed with an opportunity to succeed and make an impact. Let's not dwell on the stuff that we can’t change, but rather be resilient and dwell on the things we can change. We can’t control the extent of adversity that hits us, but we CAN control how it affects us. We owe it to the people that aren’t so fortunate, the right to see us succeed through the worst of times. In my eyes, failure and heartache is not the opposite of success, rather a piece of the success puzzle that we have to fit in. So please, embrace adversity, embrace pain, embrace failure. It will all lead you down the path that God set out for you. 

Sermon by Alex Johnson - Sunday 12 August