a field of daffodils and bluebells

2023 Grateful 38: James Stockdale

I’ve a rather vivid imagination. I’ve spent many an idle hour borrowing lives, wondering what I would have done were I in a particular situation. I’d like to think that if I’d been around during WWII, I’d have been doing my utmost to get Jews to safety. Or if I’d been more than a child in the 1960s and living in Lithuania, I’d have been one of the revolutionaries in the forest. Or if, like James Stockdale, I’d been a prisoner of war, I’d have survived the experience.

Truth be told though, I’d doubt my bladder would hold up to the stress of it all. I’m not that brave.  I hope I’m never put to the test.

Admiral James Stockdale spent eight gruelling years in a Vietnam prisoner-of-war camp. What sustained him? He said: ‘I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.’ When asked, ‘Who didn’t make it out?’ Stockdale replied: ‘Oh, that’s easy…they were the ones who said, “We’re going to be out by Christmas.” And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, “We’re going to be out by Easter.” And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.’

There’s a lesson in here for me, and indeed anyone navigating a difficult renovation. I’m not for a minute conflating a home renovation with a seven-year hell-on-earth experience in a POW camp. It’s the message from James Stockdale that I’m focusing on: It’s important to keep faith in the end of the story. [I’d forgotten he’d run with Ross Perot in 1992.]

155 was supposed to be finished in August 2021. I had my birthday bash all planned to coincide with the grand opening. 2021, mind you. Two years ago. Then it was February 2022. And then May. Then September. And then December. And now it’s April 2023 and we’re still looking for a roofer.

Taking a leaf out of James Stockdale’s life philosophy helps. I’m now focusing on the end of the story and imagining how wonderful it’s all going to be when it’s done. Whenever it’s done. I’m done with marking calendars.

But wait! There’s such a thing as post-renovation depression. What if that hits? Is there no end to the madness? Two photos - one showing an old room with green and white wallpaper and a blue mural on the walls. Two doors lead off it. There's a lot of junk in the foreground. The second shows the room renovated with a yellow feature wall, a three-piece suite in cream with lots of embroidered cushions and an oil paining of a poppy field on the wall. The sun is steaming in the windowsGrateful for the reminder to keep focusing on the end of the story. Thanks, James.


3 Responses

  1. How lovely and how interesting!!! I am fighting to focus on the page I’m reading today. It’s not any easier (for me). Thanks for your insights and words of wisdom.

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