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In Sight of Ourselves: 12 Perseverence (January 3, 2002)

The word persevere is taken from the Latin per which means "very" and severus which means being "strict or earnest" in the pursuit of a goal. So to persevere means to continue steadfastly, to persist and endure despite adversity. Three elements are necessary for perseverance to occur. First, we have to feel passionately about a goal. The motivation for reaching the goal has to come from deep within our bones.

Second, there has to be something that stands in great opposition to our goal. This opposition is relentless with no simple solution. Opposition could be in the form of nature-for example, a farm family struggling to save their livestock during a fierce storm. Opposition could be in the form of a person-for example, law enforcement's pursuit of terrorists. Perseverance needs opposition like a kite needs the wind.

Third, we must experience some form of weakness in our resolve. There has to be a moment when we feel like staying down when we fall, giving up when the forces arrayed against us appear to be overwhelming, to hide when failure seems inevitable. It is at that very moment of doubt, of discouragement, of great fear, that the ability to persevere can emerge. We approach the border of despair, but then rise up, battered but not beaten, to continue toward a goal. Leonardo Da Vinci said "Obstacles cannot crush me. Every obstacle yields to stern resolve. He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind."

Quite a few years ago, I heard a radio report of a 9-year-old boy and his mother who were on their way to his school in the dark one early morning. A terrific storm battered at them as they drove along an isolated rural road. The car went out of control and left the slick road, rolling down a steep embankment into a gully. Fortunately, both occupants were secured with seatbelts. The car stopped upside down. The mother could see and hear, but the tumbling had resulted in temporary brain injury that prevented her from moving any part of her body. The young boy managed to free himself from his seatbelt and crawl through a broken window to safety. As water swirled around and through the interior of the car and lightning and thunder gave more urgency to the threat, he realized his mother was unable to help herself.

Instead of going to higher ground, he went to the driver's side of the car and reached through the broken window. He managed to undue his mother's seatbelt. She fell onto the roof of the vehicle, unable to help him in any way, even to give directions and encouragement. Her son reached into the car and pulled her through the window, aided by the buoyancy of the water. He then dragged her across the gully and up the embankment to safety. Shortly afterwards he flagged down a passing truck driver who called an ambulance.

From her hospital room, his mother reported that as her son pulled her through the water, she could hear him say repeatedly, "I think I can; I think I can; I THINK I CAN!" When he was a preschooler The Little Engine that Could was his favorite story, one that his father often read to him.

There are moments when we must act as though it is impossible to fail. The sweetest success can only be purchased by standing up more times than we fall.

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