Have you ever noticed that two people can deal with similar problems in totally different ways? The way we view a particular situation determines reality for us. If we can learn that our perception will dictate how life will be for us, we can avoid much anguish and unhappiness.
In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the famous Russian dissident, recounts a prisoner's day in a Siberian concentration camp. This prisoner awakes at 4:30 am to the bitter cold Siberian morning. He receives a crust of moldy bread and some broth to warm him up for the slave labor of the day. Neither the bread nor the broth is very appetizing as you can imagine. However, Ivan drinks all the broth, and he seems even to enjoy it. Then he performs a strange ritual-like act with the ration of bread. He tears the bread in half with the reverence reserved for communion. One portion he eats; the other he carefully puts in his pocket.
Ivan works as a slave laborer on a brick wall in the Siberian wilderness. After a long day of frigid drudgery, he climbs into his bug-infested bunk and withdraws the half slice of bread from his coat. He begins to chew on it-enjoying his nighttime treat. He feels quite fortunate as he goes to bed that night. Reflecting upon the day, he feels happy and content. What was it that made this such a good day for this prisoner in the frozen wasteland of Siberia?
Ivan feels fortunate because no one beat or even yelled at him during the day. Also, his brick laying took place on the side of the wall away from the biting wind. Ivan Denisovich went to sleep that night thankful for all the many blessings, which he experienced that day. He closed his eyes that night a truly grateful man.
I can't speak for you, but I wouldn't be going to bed with a thankful heart if I were in that camp in Siberia. I would have viewed that day as a curse. How was it that Ivan saw the day as a blessing?
Ivan was able to accept the reality of his situation and make the best of it. Instead of complaining about the problems associated with a Siberian slave labor camp, he was able to accept his life and see beyond the trouble to the good. Complaining about the conditions of slavery wouldn't make his life any easier so Ivan didn't start out each morning wishing that life were different. Instead, he began his day knowing that nothing was going to free him from his incarceration-but he wasn't going to add to his plight by resentment. Starting with a positive position enabled him to appreciate "small" blessings like the fact that no one beat him that day.
In far less dramatic ways, we can view problems differently than others might. We can accept our situation and go on to count our blessings, or we can complain at what we regard as misfortunes. Ivan's attitude about life can teach us how to deal with a reality, which we can't change. He can show us how to look at our problems-problems that enslave us in camps of resentments and anger.
As an illustration of this, suppose you are suffering from an illness from which you cannot escape, or you are facing the death of a loved one. What do you do? Complain and make the remainder of your life even more depressing? Or do you learn from Ivan. He looked for the blessings amid the curses of his life. Ivan accepted his imprisonment as a given; starting from that position, he looked for the positive aspects of his life. He did not waste his time regretting what could or should have been. Ivan Denisovich started to live where most of us would have gotten bogged down in our adversity.
At first glance, it looks like Ivan was a very strong man to be able to view life as he did. The irony is that it takes a stronger person to face the curse of life the way most of us do-with depression and anger. Ivan's life was easier to deal with than is ours if we see our lives as negative. Try living like Ivan lived. If we do, we will be grateful for Ivan the Thankful.