the end of the story

“I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

                                                                        ~ James Bond Stockdale

James Stockdale was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam conflict. He was serving as Commander of the Air Wing (16) on the U.S.S. Oriskany, when he was shot down over enemy territory in early September of 1965. Shortly after being discovered, Stockdale found himself the senior ranking American military officer in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp.

For the next 7 ½ years, Stockdale would come to epitomize the sense of patriotism and honor that has come to define the best of the United States Armed Forces. He developed a means of communication among the prisoners, organizing acts of resistance and rebellion in any manner possible, at one point even beating himself in the face with a chair so that he would be too unrecognizable to be paraded in public and therefore could not be used to demoralize his fellow soldiers. Because of his efforts to organize resistance from within the prison, Stockdale was placed in solitary confinement by his Vietnamese captors, spending the time that he was not being tortured in a tiny cell with a light bulb that was never turned off. When he was finally released, his leg had been shattered, his back broken, and both of his shoulders were dislocated…none of which he had ever received medical attention for.

Later in his life he was interviewed by James Collins, author of the book Good to Great, about his experiences during the war. Stockdale had this to say about those that did not survive the internment:

“Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.[1]

We all come to that place in life where we feel abandoned and forsaken, where we come to believe that all hope is lost. When you come to that place, remember that you can face the reality of your present circumstances, with an undying faith in the end of your story…a story that is not yet finished, written together with a Shepherd who promises to come and find you each and every time that you are lost. No matter the road, you will never have to walk it alone.

[1] The Stockdale Paradox, Accessed Mar 20, 2014.

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