And yet: two unconquerable words | Sunday Observer

And yet: two unconquerable words

Long years ago, one of my college friends told me that his teenage son’s vision had become permanently impaired because of a rare genetic disorder. He added that it could not be corrected with eyeglasses, contact lenses or vision surgery.

I was torn with pity for him and his wife, but, was surprised to see them remaining calm and uncomplaining. A few days later, when I met him again, I tried to express my admiration for their fortitude.

I remember how he looked up at the sky and said, “Well, it seems to me that we have three choices. We can curse our karma for doing this to us, and look for some way to express our grief and rage.

Or we can grit our teeth and endure it. Or we can accept it. The first alternative is useless. The second is sterile and exhausting. The third is the only way.”


The way of acceptance! How often that path is rejected by people who refuse to admit limitations, who hide behind denials and excuses, who react to trouble with resentment and bitterness.

And how often, conversely, when one makes the first painful move toward repairing a damaged relationship, or even a broken life, that move involves acceptance of some thorny and difficult reality that must be faced before the rebuilding can begin.

It’s a law that seems to run like a shining thread through the whole vast tapestry of life.

Take alcoholism, for instance - that grim and mysterious disease. Where does recovery begin? It begins with acceptance of the unacceptable, with the uncompromising four words with which members of Alcoholics Anonymous introduce themselves at meetings: “I am an alcoholic.”

Or take a failing marriage - a marriage that is on the rocks, or drifting toward them.

Any marriage counsellor will tell you that no reconciliation ever succeeds unless it involves acceptance of the other partner, faults and all, as a fallible, imperfect human being.

And acceptance, too, of the fact that the blame for the trouble must be shared.

Difficult? Yes, It’s hideously difficult. But in terms of courage and cheerfulness and ultimate happiness, the rewards can be beyond measure.

What it takes

I knew a man once, a genuine Christian social worker in an NGO, who through some hereditary affliction became deaf and almost blind when he reached the 50th year.

Yet, he continued right throughout visiting the sick and the needy, listening to people with his hearing aid, laughing up at jokes, giving away huge portions of himself and having a marvellous time.

Someone told me, ‘That man really has what it takes.’

“It” was surely the gift of acceptance - acceptance of limitations that in turn brought the power to transcend them.

And yet!

Is there any way to be receptive to this gift, to learn to rebound from the inevitable slings and arrows that wound our egos? One way is to face your difficulty, your problem, your loss, and look at it unflinchingly, and then add two unconquerable words: and yet.

One of my friends in USA sent me this story recently: ‘Last summer, in California, I met a man who had been a sky-diver until, on his 19th jump, his parachute failed to open fully and his emergency chute wrapped itself around the partially collapsed main chute. He slammed into a dry lake bed at 60 m.p.h.’

‘Doctors thought this broken remnant of a man would never leave his hospital bed. They told him so, and he sank into black despair. But, in the hospital, he had frequent wheelchair visits from another patient, a man whose spinal cord had been severed in an automobile accident.’

‘This man would never walk. But he was always cheerful. “I certainly don’t recommend my situation to anyone,” he would say. “And yet, I can read, I can listen to music, I can play the guitar, and I can talk to people,”

‘And yet: those two words shift the focus from what has been lost, to what remains - and to what may still be gained.

They gave such hope and determination to the sky-diver that he came through his ordeal and today, manages to walk slowly without a limp.’


Some people confuse acceptance with apathy, but there’s all the difference in the world, between the two. Apathy fails to distinguish between what can and what cannot be helped; acceptance makes that distinction. Apathy paralyzes the will-to-action; acceptance frees it by relieving it of impossible burdens.

There was no apathy in the acceptance of my friend’s son who become visually impaired. The parents convinced him that life could be made happy even though it had to be lived in darkness.

With the support of many friends and organizations, and guided by the Association of Visually Impaired Physiotherapists (UK) they enrolled him to a 3-year professional course of studies in physiotherapy in UK.

Today, he is a qualified physiotherapist. He performs physiotherapeutic rehabilitation by providing treatment that each injury requires.

He uses a talking notetaker, scanner, OCR, magnifier, and screen reader software. “I do my job as anyone else and I have had no problems relating to my visual impairment,” he says.


Acceptance liberates people by breaking the chains of self-pity. Once you accept the blow, the disappointment, you’re free - free to go on to new endeavours that may turn out magnificently.

Perhaps, in the long run the beginning of wisdom lies in the simple admission that things are not always the way we would like them to be, that we ourselves are not so good or so kind or so hard-working as we would like to believe.

And yet, and yet ... with each sun that rises there is a new day, a new challenge, a new opportunity for doing better.

Reinhold Niebuhr, American Theologian created a modern prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.

People have called it the prayer of acceptance. They are right.