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Constructing The House Of Life

On December 27, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, I was shot by a German sniper. At that time, it was a catastrophic event. Afterwards, to begin the long journey of recovery was even more difficult because I had lost some of the flexibility and formativeness of youth. The road ahead was obstructed with huge barriers such as pride, bitterness and self-pity.

My first realization was of being terribly alone. Then came a greater realization: that there were people trying to help me. And finally, much later, I realized that the basic thing was to help myself. And although I must accomplish and achieve through my own efforts, I would never be alone, for the social unit around me would share in my achievements. It helped in my rehabilitation. My next and greatest problem was interpreting what people do and say, because I saw that only by being part of people could I progress.

In my youth, I had wanted to be an architect — to build. I achieved my wish in another way. As a physician, I remembered the thought that you can't construct a building without a scaffold. That scaffold, I decided, would be responsibility for service to others, as it was to me. Giving of myself would give my life continuity. In offering my experience, perhaps I could help people to eventually respond to crisis in this troubled world.

Life has been different since that sniper shot me. I believe I am a better man now, because as a younger man, I was moody with little balance — moods that interfered with concentration and achievement. Now, as a doctor working in rehabilitation, life is fuller at all times. Suffering has been good for me, and now I am a doer. My acceptance of my own pain and physical injury, and hence, my desire to do, completely submerged my bitterness, killed any sense of personal revenge. I know now that I could talk to the man who shot me and feel no rancor.

Thus, I shall not have to steal through an existence without honor and observation. I believe this to be due to my sense of duty, for if I had not a sense of duty, I should not now be a paraplegic. And by the same token, I should not be the man I am. And as such, I should not be able to hold the world close enough. On reflection, I believe I would again undertake the events that led up to the moment that changed my life. For that is the kind of person I am, and experience has shown me that the change was good.

This then, I believe: that human beings grow up with aspirations and hopes for joy and sorrow, and by contrast appreciate each the more. I believe that love and mercy and truth are the common property of all mankind, that life is the soul, and the soul knows no frontiers, no more than does nature, of which we are lucky enough to be the end result. I believe that experience counts most heavily in the construction of the house of life, and not how we are told to build it.

The spoken word only has meaning for me, which fits my experience. It says truth as I see it. I believe in the powers of communication, yet I am forced to recognize the great barriers of concept, for herein lie the struggles of life, as well as its mercy. I measure my standards by my inadequacies and flexibly discipline myself, for one gains stature not with maturity, but with growing. This I believe.

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Arthur S. Abramson, 1953