The gift of desperation

I just finished watching 127 Hours, the movie starring James Franco wherein he plays Aaron Ralston — a man who got stuck between a rock and a hard place… literally.

Now if you haven’t seen the movie you may want to skip this article until you do because I’m about to spoil the ending. The movie chronicles a five-day journey during which Aaron fell down a narrow opening between two walls after some rocks loosened causing him to slip. One of these rocks, a small boulder, wedged his arm between itself and the wall.

After being stuck there for five days, in a remarkable display of courage and commitment, he freed himself by cutting off his arm.

In order to free himself and go on with his life, he was willing to cut off his arm.

Would you be willing to cut off your arm to save your life?

A friend just sent me a text message saying that life is NOT the opposite of death. birth is the opposite of death. So what, then, is the opposite of life?

I believe the opposite of life is not living our dreams.

While there are many ways a person can get stuck, the worst kind of stuck is *not knowing* one is stuck. At least, when you know you’re stuck, you’re ‘armed’ with the possibility of doing something about it. If you’re stuck and you don’t even know it, it would never occur to you to do anything to get yourself unstuck, much less something as remarkable as cutting off your arm.

A woman I once met had died in a car accident. She lost all vital signs, was pronounced dead, and ended up in the city morgue. But then a remarkable thing happened: she woke up. Right there lying on the table in the morgue, she woke up and returned to her life. She once told me that during the moments before she died, as she contemplated her life, she didn’t regret a single thing she had done during her life. What she regretted were all the things she had wanted to do but didn’t.

I sometimes hear a person who admits to having a problem but doesn’t do anything about it because they aren’t taking it seriously. Yet when that same person recognizes the grave nature of their problem, they tend to *wake up* enabling them to perform tremendous feats that weren’t possible prior to their awakening (like Aaron Ralston cutting off his arm).

It’s as though the ability to perform the activity was there all along, but until they took it seriously, they couldn’t pull it off. The gift of desperation, it seems, is that it provides us with the courage to take the actions that previously were “un-take-able.”

Which leaves me with a different question: are we not taking the actions that will fulfill our goals and dreams because we aren’t taking them seriously?

Perhaps we haven’t experienced our capacity to be extraordinary because we’ve never had a goal that was worth cutting our arm off for.

Maybe our problem hasn’t been that we don’t know how (or aren’t able) to fulfill our goals; perhaps our problem is that we haven’t created any goals that were large enough to be worthy of our effort.

Maybe that’s the problem. And maybe the only reason we haven’t done anything about that particular problem is that we haven’t been taking it seriously. Maybe before this moment, we haven’t even been aware of it. That’s OK, though, because we’re aware of it now.

And now that we’re aware, we are empowered to take some actions. By getting present to the value of our dreams, the way Aaron (while stuck) got present to the value of his life, we empower ourselves to do what they require. This, I believe, is the gift of desperation: it compels us to do the things we never could have done so we can have the experiences we’ve always wanted to have.

Which brings me back to my earlier question: What, then, is the opposite of life? I believe that the opposite of life is living one’s life without going after one’s dreams, or in the words of Thoreau, “living a life of quiet desperation.”

To be truly alive, one must be willing to end that silence, embrace one’s dreams, and use that desperation as the gift it actually is: a driving force that compels one to act in accordance with one’s dreams. Even if that includes cutting off one’s arm.