What do you tell a 5 year old when a shark attacks a Barbie doll at the beach?
My friend’s 5 year old daughter and I were playing with her dolls a few months ago. We were at the beach, well the dolls were, and a shark was fast approaching Rocker Barbie.
As we sat on her bed setting up the scene in which Luella described a day at the beach where a shark would attack one of us, I told little Luella that I, well Rocker Barbie, would be the victim and that she, well her more robust Raggedy Ann, could save me.
‘What’s a victim?” she said, peering at me inquisitively as she prepared her dolls for the adventure, fixing their dresses and their hair.
I had to stop for a minute. I don’t spend all that much time with 5 year olds so hadn’t thought about the fact that she may not have come across this word in her developing vocabulary.
“Gosh, how does one define ‘victim’ and how do I describe this to a 5 year old?” I thought to myself.
My immediate response was that there are no victims. That you are only a victim if you believe you are a victim. But this was not going to be easy to explain to a 5 year old. I can barely explain it myself, even though somewhere deep down I believe it to be true.
“The victim is the one who gets attacked by the shark”, I heard myself say.
“Ok”, she said. “Let’s play”.
As we played out the scene my mind kept wandering back to this idea that we are only victims if we believe ourselves to be. Where did this idea come from? I’d clearly read it somewhere. And how could I reconcile it with the obvious answer that someone who is ‘harmed or killed by another’ is, by dictionary definition, a victim.
The other day I was telling some friends about my best friend, Marie. Marie was the ‘victim’ of a horrible car accident in 1997. Two cars collided in the intersection and then hit her while she was standing on the sidewalk waiting to cross the street. She was in a coma for days, suffered severe brain damage, and lost the bottom half of her left leg as a result of the accident.
In 2006 I met a filmmaker, Paul Nadler, who had also been the victim of an awful car accident, left at the side of the road to die in fact, but who survived and made a film to tell the tale of his brain damage, months of intense physical therapy, and ultimate pursuit of higher education and creative expression, despite his disabilities.
Rick Hansen, who I had the honour of working with in 2001, was also a victim in a car accident which led to his life in a wheelchair, the Man in Motion world tour, and current day fundraising efforts for spinal cord injury research. Here’s a man who turned his tragedy into his life’s purpose, letting go of any victim mentality he may have been entitled to.
My friend Marie was bitter and angry for years, often asking “why me?” and complaining about the loss of her leg and inability to work. Some of this negativity was a result of the brain injury and yet today she is married to a man she met at the brain injury clinic, has a house and three dogs, drives her own car, and volunteers at the local hospital.
The bitterness I once heard has now sweetened and she even jokes about things, laughing about the day we went and got tattoos in university – she got a sunflower on the big toe of the leg she had amputated – stating quite strongly that even though she might want to, she won’t get another tattoo for fear she might lose THAT body part too!
Her life is far from perfect and not without its struggle, but she lives a pretty full life and is getting better with each passing day.
So I guess what it comes down to, this whole idea of “we are only victims if we believe ourselves to be” is attitude?
So what IS a victim then? And can this word be erased from our vocabulary altogether? Never introduced to those 5 year olds who innocently inquire, “What’s a victim?” when we talk of sharks attacking Barbie dolls at the beach.
It makes me think of that professional surfer who had her arm bitten off by a shark while surfing. Yes, she was a ‘victim’ of the attack but she’s still surfing and doesn’t seem to view herself that way at all.
Things happen and while we might want to look at them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or label ourselves ‘victims’ of some horrible fate it really is just what it is.
Things happened to these people, things that hurt them but also challenged them. Challenged them to see themselves and the world around them differently and to continue to live a life with new purpose when they could just as easily have given up, given in to that so-called ‘victim mentality’.
I remember lying on the table in a chiropractor’s office in California many years ago, the same chiropractor that worked on the late Christopher Reeve, another positive role model for those having experienced an accident, injury, and ultimately life-changing event.
I looked up and read the following quote stuck to the ceiling above me:
“Life is not about what happens to you but what you do with what happens to you.”
Life is not about what happens to you but what you do with what happens to you.
And what if it’s true that ‘there are no accidents’ just as Master Oogway says in one of my favourite films, Kung Fu Panda. That everything happens as it is meant to. That it is this way so that we may each fulfill our own destiny.
All of these people I’ve mentioned have been ‘victims’ of ‘accidents’ and yet none of them have held on to that mentality. They have each overcome the odds and gone on to do some pretty remarkable things. And that’s some pretty inspiring stuff.
I’m happy to report that Raggedy Ann saved Rocker Barbie that day at the beach. They both escaped the shark attack, celebrated life joyfully, and in the end there was no victim.