It’s made me ponder the options for someone facing pain and adversity. This reminded me of talks I had with Wally Zergman, my uncle who lived in Sequim, Washington. As a prisoner-of-war during World War II, he experienced more hardship then anyone I’ve known. Before his death last summer, we talked extensively regarding his wartime experience.
What did I learn?
It was not a nutritious diet, adequate rest, exercise, prescription pain-killers or other medications that sustained him. There were very few, if any, of those options available.
My uncle overcame the pain of his imprisonment by utilizing the one thing his captors could not control–his thoughts.
For instance, he kept himself mentally alert to the good going on around him and this alertness led to opportunities to improve his situation. He told me of resourceful plans he devised that brought him and his comrades another precious ball of rice, a little extra rest or a transfer to a less dangerous work detail.
His indomitable sense of humor, his persistent ability to bring a smile to himself and to others made a positive impact. His expectation of recovery, also helped him to survive malaria and many other diseases that plagued thousands among the camps.
A fellow prisoner-of-war named John Wyndham also found that his mental perspective helped him to overcome the adversity of his captivity. Like my uncle, whose weight dropped to 68 lbs. at one point, Wyndham endured the same hardship of being deprived of a sufficient diet.
Wyndham was a Christian Scientist who had learned about the health benefits of turning his thought to God. In an article for the Christian Science Sentinel he later wrote,
“Many of the men fell out of the farm group because of illness. Back in the camp the bamboo hospital was filled with sufferers from disease diagnosed as caused by malnutrition. Yet, sustained by the truths I had learned, I was able to keep on working and marching…Christian Science helped me to come through without one day’s illness. And although I was very, very thin when I was returned home, I experienced no ill effects.”
My uncle Wally also returned with no lasting health problems and lived to reach his 90th birthday. Wyndham wrote about his confinement in his book, “The Ultimate Freedom.” One online reviewer commented: “it was interesting to see how he came to recognize that his thoughts were actually influencing his life.”
Wyndham went on to become a popular author, Christian Science practitioner and teacher. In his later years, my uncle was an inspiration to other veterans and those who heard him speak. I believe both men demonstrated that what we think can significantly impact our health and well-being.
Article first published as “Overcoming Pain: Lessons from a World War II Hero” on Blogcritics.org.