POINT TO PONDER
Our experiences define us but can also hold us to outdated beliefs and focusing on what can't work rather than what will.
STORYLINE by Rajiv Shah
Slavomir Rawicz' “The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom” recounts Rawicz' incarceration by the Russian military in a Siberian POW camp, and how he led six prisoners over 4,000 miles – through the unforgiving Siberian winter terrain, Gobi desert, Tibet, Himalayas, and India - to their freedom.
During his early days in prison, Rawicz's first ally becomes Khabarov, a man who has dreamed of escape ever since his incarceration, four years prior. He has studied the terrain, how to create a diversion, and what it will take to survive in the excruciating climate that surrounds the jail – nature proving to be the harshest prison of all.
When a snow storm blows in and makes visibility low, Rawicz decides that it is the best time to escape. The blizzard will cloak their break from the prison and cover their tracks as they trek deep into the wilderness. They are set to go.
Rawicz wakes his friend Khabarov and tells him it is time, that the conditions couldn't better for their escape. Khabarov balks. He goes through the scenario in his mind, as he has many times before, eventually counting all the ways their plan will fail, even though the opportunity of freedom is right in front of him.
His years in prison, his dreams of escape, his research and experience come to a head in that pivotal moment, and Khabarov chooses not to go with his friend. He stays behind, fearful and convinced by his experiences that their plan will not work. He can't change and his experiences in the prison keep him from his freedom - a freedom that Rawicz and his six companions find.
I came across the title for this reflection* while perusing the gift shop at the Getty Villa in Malibu. On a magnet was this little tidbit of wisdom from J. Paul Getty, and I've been thinking about it ever since.
Around the world, we are on the brink of major change economically and socially. Change that has left our leaders in great upheaval and wondering the best course of action. Change that has forced us to reexamine how we choose to live.
There are people that believe that the end is near. I believe that what is happening is not the end, but a new beginning, a shift in the way we live. Jobs are scarce, the US government has raised the debt ceiling, and we are being forced to change our daily habits. Does that mean we are close to the end?
Not in my opinion. We are just having to learn a new way. Our experiences define us but can also hold us to outdated beliefs and focusing on what can't work rather than what will. Much like Rawicz and Khabarov in the story, our experiences can keep us from acknowledging the conditions currently in front of us. Often our experiences lead us to focus on the harsh realities rather than the possibilities for change and growth. Especially in today's climate, not taking any action and continuing to proceed in the same way is a prison unto itself.
*Title quoted from J. Paul Getty