The Unexpected Journey
Chapter 4

Primary Coping Attitudes

By primary coping attitudes, I refer to the basic attitudes that serve as the foundation to other attitudes or mechanisms.  Primary coping attitudes are the “bedrock” on which I base my approach to life.  These primary attitudes are deeper than the mechanisms I quietly may use to deal with a specific event or situation.

I must stress that this is the way I approach my life and the demands on my life.  In no way do I consider the things I share as a “how to” approach to situations that a person can use as a “formula” to address things each of us confronts.  I am not saying that if you encounter a problem less serious than mine, or equal to mine, or more serious than mine, that you, by adopting my approach, will produce the results you desire. 

Nor am I claiming that I will deal with future adjustments (which inevitably will come) in the same way I have dealt with past adjustments.  I hope I do, but I am not so arrogant as to presume I will.  There are scary moments now.  I have no doubt that scarier moments are yet to come.  I am sharing to provide insights into me, not to advise you to say, “Do what he did, and it will produce the results you desire in your challenges.”  I share to challenge you to think, not to say, “Do as I do.”  I will have to deal with my future—so will you with yours. 

Ultimately, the responsibility lies within each of us as individuals.  Ultimately, the only thing we choose is the attitudes toward self we display.


Basic Attitude #1: Existence Is About More Than Me.

As I look at people in and out of American societies and cultures, I see a lot of self-centered existences.  As I look within human life (and I definitely include myself), I see a lot of selfishness. Many people are primarily concerned with “my” standard of living, what “I” want, how “you” fit into “my” vision of “my” physical life, and improving “my” future.  It seems to me that the more a person has, the more he or she wants. 

No matter how adequate my house is, I want a bigger house.  No matter how adequate my transportation is, I want another vehicle.  No matter how adequate my income is, I want a bigger income.  Why?  More is always better.  Why?  It provides me opportunity to indulge myself with the increase.

Closely connected to this physical attitude is the conviction that “money is the answer.”  No matter what the problem is, it can be solved if only there is sufficient money.  Want an example?  What is “real money”?  I remember when “real money” was a hundred dollars.  (I remember the first time I began earning $400 a month.)  Then it was a thousand dollars.  Then it was a hundred thousand dollars.  Then it was a million dollars.  Then it was a billion dollars.  Now it is measured in hundreds of billions of dollars.  Name the problem, and soon the discussion is focused on “how much money it will take.” 

The solution to problems is not as simple as a forced sharing of anything.  Somewhere responsibility and purpose must become significant factors.  “Taking” requires little instruction or responsibility.  “Doing” and “becoming” involve a lot of teaching and personal responsibility.

No level of existence is immune to the desire for more.  In fact, the desire for more is not merely restricted to those who have.  It often runs rampant in those who have nothing.  It can dominate those who had nothing but have risen to those who have little.  Never or rarely do we have enough!  No matter what it costs (or what we forfeit), having more is worth the price because having more is always the solution.

It seems to me that few (if any) attitudes transform the actions of a person as much as simply understanding that life is about more than me and selfish desires.  Two things amaze me: (a) as the material things of a society’s people increase, the capacity of that society’s people to appreciate diminishes.  (b) The more a society has, it seems the more likely it is to view people as “opportunity” rather than “persons.”  The significance of relationships seems to decline as possessions increase. 

If I am to grow toward the person I wish to be, I must remember two things.  (a) I am more than the sum of what I possess.  (b) My existence is about more than having.  I cannot allow myself to be seduced into thinking that existence is about me.  I am not accurately measured by what I have.  Being sick may affect what I physically can do, but it does not determine the person I wish to be.  In fact, being sick may actually enhance and provide urgency to being who I wish to be.


Basic Attitude #2: Physical Life Is an Investment.

For whatever reason, for years I have been fascinated by the remains of ancient people and their burial sites.  I find it amazing to watch and listen to humans who declare the significance of every detail found.  They also interpret the meaning and use of everything found.  As time passes and finds accumulate, the significance of objects and the interpretations of their use tend to change.

Years ago (in a source I no longer remember) I saw the interpretation of the significance of details projected thousands of years into the future. A buried motel was discovered, unearthed, and a room carefully catalogued.  The picture was a spoof, and the catalogue entries were hilarious.  Things were not at all what they were interpreted to be.

Two things occur to me about death.  (a) No one remembers for long the cost of our caskets or the appearance projected by our funerals.  (b) Regardless of the cost of the funeral, the person in the casket is still physically dead.

In the late 1970s or early 1980s, two older Christian men came from Cameroon, Africa to the USA to visit people they knew.  My family was among several they visited.  Two things concerned me: (a) How would the wealth of our nation affect their views of American Christians?   (b) What could I show them to provide them some insights into our society?  Both men had been quite helpful in giving us insights into their society.  We were truly indebted to both!

Across the street from our church building was a funeral home.  The people who ran the funeral home were good friends.  I decided the visiting men could relate to American burial practices and find those practices insightful. 

What occurred defied my expectations.  They marveled that there existed a vehicle that did nothing but haul dead bodies.  A house that did nothing but care for the dead defied their imagination.  They asked why we brought flowers.  However, as we explained the embalming process and showed them the casket room, they were strangely quiet.   

Finally, they asked what everything cost.  The cost was explained.  Then they looked at me and asked did we think we were going to use the bodies again?  To see our funeral practices through their eyes was fascinating! 

It seems to me that there are two ways to view physical life.  (a) All that exists is “the here and now.”  (b) There is an existence after physical death.  Certainly, there are a number of variations of those two views.  Basically, one says physical life has no significance beyond the period in which physical life exists.  The other says that the manner in which physical life is used is significant after the person dies. 

Obviously, to me, physical life is significant to existence after the death of the physical body.  Therefore, I view my physical life to be an investment.  That affects what I am as a person.  That affects how I see other people.  That affects how I look at this physical world. 

Nothing changes because my cerebellum is shrinking.  This physical world does not change because my balance is imperfect, my stamina declines, or my muscle coordination is undesirable.  What I am, how I see people, and the global condition are not altered because I am sick.  Those views were a matter of choice before I knew I was sick, and the reasons I had for accepting those views have not changed because I am sick. 

Serious sickness is not a reason to create a panic-guided quest to lengthen physical life at any cost.  Life is much more than a beating heart and assisted respiration in a body lying in a bed in a comatose state that is unlikely to change.


Basic Attitude #3:  “Now” Is All I Have.

Right “now” is all I have in this physical existence.  It is extremely important for me to be the “me” I wish to be “now” rather than declaring, “I could be the ‘me’ I want to be if only . . .”   I cannot do what I wish I could do, but I can be who I wish to be.  Circumstances may alter my doing, but circumstances should not alter who I am.  I do not have the body I had a few years ago.  However, I am the person (hopefully even improved) that I was then.

Consider an example.  You may say, “You have got to be kidding!  Look at how active you were in the past!  Consider all the things you enjoyed doing in the past that are not even options now!  You no longer can use life as you used it for over fifty years!  And you likely will have even less available to you in time to come, if you live!”

For over fifty years I declared specific values I urged people to see and adopt.  I declared reasons for adopting those values.  I now have opportunity to demonstrate the genuineness of those values through my adverse circumstances.    

I choose to continue to be who I have been for a long time.  My circumstances may be adverse, but the power of personal influence has been magnified.  I doubt it will be said that I am who I am because it is convenient for me to be that person.  My circumstances demand that I demonstrate the validity of my life’s values.

Does that frighten me?  Yes!  Why?  Because I think the values are not valid?  No!  It frightens me because I fear I am too weak to demonstrate the validity of the values.  If that happens, others might think the values are invalid as they disregard my personal weaknesses.

Permit me a tiny spiritual insight.  Evil and good have clashed in this physical arena for a long time.  God triumphed over the clash in Jesus’ death and resurrection.  My triumph is not dependent on me, my strength, and what I can do.  It is dependent on what God did for me through Jesus’ dependence on Him long ago.  My fear is not a salvation fear, but the fear I cannot be the example for Jesus and God that I wish to be. 

I belong to the God who specializes in producing good results from evil’s works.  If God could make a Savior from Jesus’ execution, who am I to doubt that God can use my situation for His good purposes?  My wish: to continue the kind of trust in God to provide Him that option!

I take nothing for granted.  I have constant reminders that my conditions could change in less time than it takes my eye to blink.  I can waste the only time I have by throwing myself a “pity party,” or I can make full use of “now” by refusing to worry about my future.  I am not saying a person should act foolishly and unnecessarily increase risks.  I am saying that we should know our limitations, function within those limitations, but function by being the “us” that we wish to be. A challenge? Constantly! An impossibility?  Never!

I do not waste time on what I do not wish to happen, or on what I wish I could still do.  My goal for “now” is to focus on what I can do, and do it.  If I permit myself to live in the past or in the future, I waste (and will never recover) my “now.”  The past is gone, and I do not have the option of recovering it.  The only positive contribution I can make to my future is using my “now” well. “Now” is available to me, so let me use “now” well.


Basic Attitude #4: Do Not Measure Your Life or Significance by Your Body.

There is a powerful temptation in the American culture (and many other cultures) to measure a person’s significance by her beauty or his handsomeness or by her/his accomplishments. 

The aging process has a powerful impact on all of us.  What age does to physical appearance and to ability is often just plain mean.  The environment in which we live constantly changes.  Time declares and generates what is relevant to physical considerations.  Through the passage of time, our skills often become increasingly irrelevant.

One irony of life is simple to see.  As young adults, we were filled with desire for our world to be better through changes in human behavior.  To the young adult, “change” is a wonderful word depicting a wonderful reality filled with hope!  Time passes (it always does).  When we become older people, we are filled with lament because human behavior and the world changed so much.  “Change” is a horrible word filled with despair, and we are frightened by change!  Constantly, the young shout for change, and the old lament change.

When we were young, we were sure our physical looks would never fade and our skills always would be in demand—being old was years and years away in the dim future.  Yet, time passed, physical looks faded, and past skills became insignificant.  Muscles sag or disappear, and maybe there is little need for what we once did.  (I wonder what happened to people who sold or repaired manual typewriters and adding machines?)

Wonder what happened to the person when looks faded or skills no longer served needs?  That depends.  On what?  It depends on the person who lost the physical looks or has the antiquated skills.  The question: was the person bigger than his or her body, or was the person defined by his or her body?  If the person was bigger than his or her body, little to nothing happened.  To the extent the person was defined by his or her body (and its performance), the person disappeared as the past faded.

I choose to define me by more than my body or by doing physical things.  If my body diminishes, may my person not diminish.   My body is a tool I use; it is not me.  It does not define who I am, but what I can do.  If I cannot do what I did, I can remain the same person I was.  My attitudes and my values express who I am. My lost bodily deeds do not express who I am.  Being angry or bitter about what I can no longer do will not change what I can or cannot do.  Such anger and bitterness only change who I am—for the worse, not for the better.

May I be a “me” worth knowing regardless of the body I have.  While the deeds of my body have a huge impact on the life I can live, the deeds of my body are not me.

Copyright 2010

Previous Chapter


Next Chapter

David's Home Page