Most everyone knows the story of Elizabeth Smart.
Abducted from her own bedroom at 14, held captive, starved and sexually assaulted daily for nine months, Elizabeth’s recovery and subsequent return to her family mesmerized the nation.
Recently, an interviewer asked her, “What did your captor not understand about you?” Unfazed, Elizabeth looked right at the woman, leaned toward the camera and said with spirited confidence, “That I could not be broken!”
I have always been fascinated by resilience. What enables a human being to endure unbelievably difficult circumstances and somehow emerge not only intact, but stronger? I am sure there are many different roads to overcoming life’s toughest blows. What can we learn from Elizabeth Smart?
As I read her compelling life story in her new book, I was amazed at her grace, courage and strength. Soon, it was clear there were two significant strategies she used to deal with the unimaginable horrors she experienced as a young girl – one was her attitude, the other was, remarkably, gratitude.
Everyone would have understood if the nine months of captivity defined Elizabeth’s life. Certainly the magnitude of her ordeal could create deep bitterness, mistrust of others and a desire to disengage from the rest of her life. Aren’t some experiences so terrible we as human beings simply cannot recover joy, hope, life?
What she wrote about that revealed the attitude of a champion: “As of this writing, I am 25 years old. I have been alive for 307 months. Nine of those months were pretty terrible. But 298 of those months have been very good. Even if I died tomorrow, nine out of 307 seems like pretty good odds. Looking at it that way, I don’t think I have much to complain about.” Elizabeth Smart has nothing to complain about? Wow!
What a great attitude, a winning strategy for handling adversity. What she did was keep her problems, as big as they were, in the bigger perspective of her whole life. It is easy when we are stressed to tell ourselves, “this will never get better,” or “this is going to ruin my whole life.” In reality, our lives are a mix of good and bad experiences and it is up to us which ones we allow to define us.
The other strategy Elizabeth used she summed up like this: “There is one other very important explanation for why I have been able to overcome what happened to me. I believe in gratitude.”
Now what in the world could Elizabeth Smart have gratitude for, I wondered? She went on to describe how during her captivity she often went hungry for days, lacked water to drink and bathe, and wore the same dirty clothes for weeks. Upon her return home, she talked about how grateful the experience had made her for the simple things of life like a warm bed, cold water to drink, food to eat. She seemed to take nothing for granted and even wrote that things could have been worse!
It was a great lesson for me, to remember that even on my toughest day there is something for which to be grateful. It is hard to be angry, bitter or sad for very long when you consider the great blessings of each day, regardless of what else is going on.
Resilience. That is the word I would use to describe Elizabeth Smart. Her attitude, perspective and gratitude helped her overcome the unimaginable and emerge intact, stronger—amazing.
No wonder she “can’t be broken.”
(Quotes taken from the book, “My Story,” by Elizabeth Smart with Chris Stewart, 2013).