The BIG PICTURE: Surviving Through Gulags and Bad Coffee

Written by Michael Cummings on August 6, 2016

A prisoner is about to be shot by a firing squad.

Would you like a cigarette?

No thanks. I’m trying to quit.

Part of John 16:33 says, “In this world you will have trouble.” No doubt we can all raise our hand in agreement. Some have multiple incidents of little troubles, often called First World problems, and never get walloped by a big event. Others enter this life in horror, and never escape until death. Without delving into the “Why?” of what we experience, it seems a good time to consider how we react to problems.

I took my girls on our annual camping trip for a few days. It’s a good time to bond with my children, and give my wife some time alone. Generally speaking, I do a good job of remembering everything I need to bring. This trip, however, I forgot the condiments for the hot dogs and soap for the dishes. Worst of all, I had discovered that the instant coffee singles I had really been looking forward to were of the decaffeinated kind.

Decaffeinated coffee. And your point is…?

Describing this situation to you makes me wonder if writing about it is even worth it. What a stupid thing to bring up, right? And yet, because I had had a headache one of those mornings, caffeinated coffee was the only thing on my mind. Having it outside of my reach could have made the day horrible, but it didn’t. Sometimes we’re just struck with gratitude, and watching my girls fish, play on the beach, hike, swim, and laugh didn’t make me not enjoy the lack of caffeine, but it helped me endure. And I laughed when I thought of how my wife, when trying to be funny, scrunches up her face and makes this whining noise as if she’s about to cry.

This is a textbook First World Problem. I can hear your justifiable scoffs, “Boo hoo, you didn’t get your coffee. Don’t you know there are people who are truly suffering in this world? Grow up.” I get it, but let me bring this point around to real tragedy.

Viktor Frankl, the famous neurologist and psychiatrist who was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, told stories of how he and his fellow prisoners would use humor to help them get by:

In another frequently told story, a prisoner accidentally bumps into a Nazi guard. The guard turns and shouts, “Schwein!” (which means “pig” in German). The prisoner bows and says, “Cohen. Pleased to meet you.” The joke clearly demonstrates how humor helps reverse who’s in control and who seems to be the superior being. Even in the terrible conditions of the camp, such jokes provided a means of momentarily overcoming extreme adversity.

My fellow Clashmates, this is a terrible time for us in the United States. Of the millions of people eligible for the office of the President, we have before us a choice between a woman so bad we haven’t begun to learn of the levels of her corruption. On the other side, we have a weapons-grade egomaniac who, from all accounts, got into this race on a dare, was surprised he got so far, and now doesn’t know what to do or how to win (or if he even wants to win) so he entertains us daily with his political Tourette Syndrome of what Ben Shapiro calls Good Trump/Bad Trump.

We are faced with unflinching levels of spending, an encroaching wave of Islamic terror few of our representatives seem determined to stop, a military incapable of fighting two wars simultaneously, a moral decay that appears impossible to undo, and an education system focused more on environmental and social justice indoctrination than in actual learning. We are justified in being depressed.

What do we do? In face of powerlessness, we must start with our own lives and our own decisions. We can’t allow big issues to determine our lives, but we also can’t let bad traffic, bad customer service, a broken window, or broken tail light decide how we act toward others. We must always remember, as Frankl noted, we are in charge:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Image: shutterstock_388373116.jpg

Share if you want to remind others they can chose how they respond to life’s problems, big or small.

Michael Cummings
Michael A. Cummings has a Bachelors in Business Management from St. John's University in Collegeville, MN, and a Masters in Rhetoric & Composition from Northern Arizona University. He has worked as a department store Loss Prevention Officer, bank auditor, textbook store manager, Chinese food delivery man, and technology salesman. Cummings wrote position pieces for the 2010 Trevor Drown for US Senate (AR) and 2012 Joe Coors for Congress (CO) campaigns.