Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
- Invictus by William Henley, 1875
The words of this poem are inspiring. They have inspired thousands since they were penned.
Nelson Mandela found empowerment by reciting the poem to fellow prisoners in a South African prison. Timothy McVeigh, the infamous Oklahoma City bomber, chose these words as his final written statement. Quite a contrast.
This poem lifts my soul. It captures the indomitable spirit of the human will when it is given a choice. It acknowledges God, but also acknowledge the power of choice each of us has in how we will respond to tragedy. Bow down, give in, give up? Or accept it, embrace it, grow from it?
Re-read the third stanza.
Will you choose to be unafraid? It takes courage and resolve to overcome. It doesn’t say it will be easy, in fact is speaks of the “Horror” of the road ahead. Nevertheless, the power of choice is in your hands.
This poem does not speak of the necessity of surrendering one’s will to God, to fate, to the universe. That is a discussion for another post, but the topic of choosing where to direct one’s will necessitates its introduction. The metaphor of the road ahead, being designed by a Higher Power, but our choice whether to take it or not, is appropriate.
This brings me back to 2 years ago. I wrote about some of my struggles a couple days ago. I remember it as clear as yesterday, sitting in a jail cell, wondering what the hell had happened to my life. Was I not supposed to achieve something great in this world? I wanted nothing more than to help others, and enjoy life – and now my job and freedom were taken away from me. What was I going to do now?
When a close friend picked me up, I was in a broken state. I knew I had reached a fork in the road. One option was to run away from all my problems, take a new identity, in the spirit of freedom and self-will run riot, I thought a life on the road was a possibility. The second option was to “exit now” – end the pain, and bow to the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that lie ahead. My final choice was to do whatever it took to turn my life around, face and embrace every challenge that was around the bend.
What did I do to deserve this? Whatever happened to God not giving us more than we could handle? Can I do this? Is it even worth it?
These are all questions that rolled through my mind. The choice I made should be clear, and that choice has burned in me every day since – to do whatever it takes to overcome, to go to any length to become a better man. It is what gets me up every morning.
This decision is about far more than choosing to not use mood altering substances on a daily basis. That was the easy part. If I had any idea how difficult this road would have been, I know I wouldn’t have chosen this direction 2 years ago, but gratefully the loss of an old life has given me a new one. Today, life has meaning. Today, I am grateful for my life.
Why do you get out of bed in the morning?
You are the master of your fate, you are the captain of your soul.