The Art of Surrender

Many years ago, when I was maybe in junior high, I watched a documentary about a man who had been a P.O.W. I don’t remember his name, his rank, or if he was British or American, but I remember his extraordinary courage. His was not a tale of daring escape or open defiance. His was a tale of surrender, and it’s one of the bravest stories I’ve ever heard.

We don’t typically equate bravery with surrender. We like to think of ourselves as “do or die” types, with traditional war cries ranging from “Remember the Alamo” to “Yippee-Ki-Ay,” right? But, before you pass judgement, let me tell you about this amazing man.

A captive, he was sent to a crude camp where other prisoners of war were being held. While there, he was placed in solitary confinement, left in a dark hole, without human contact, for over a year. There was no chance of escape. No visiting jailer to attempt to overcome. No compatriots with whom to join forces and plot freedom. No tools nor materials with which to make one. No means of communication. No sun, no moon. No north, no south. No hope.

The point of this type of solitary confinement was to break the spirit, the man, and his mind. This soldier knew that his captors were sentencing him to a slow, maddening death. So, he surrendered. Not to their plans, not to defeat, and not to death. He surrendered to truth – the reality that he was stuck – imprisoned by those who would seek to do him harm, with no immediate assistance on the way. He embraced this reality and used it to survive.

He knew that his biggest danger was losing his mind. So, he developed a plan. He knew he would have to keep his mind occupied for what would probably be a long time, so he he had to think of something that would keep him “busy.” He decided that right there, in a pit of darkness and despair, he would build something beautiful and grand. He would build a castle from the ground up, stone by stone, turret by turret, flag by flag. And, it was going to be glorious.

He began imagining the blueprints, then he dug a foundation. The walls, a moat, the interior. He “went to work” and “came home” everyday. He surrendered to his current reality, adapted, and made a plan in hopes of a one day, some day rescue. He wanted to be ready to resume life. He had faith that he would once again see the sky, breathe fresh air, and live free. And, many days and stones lain later, he did.

I think that, sometimes, we allow our current circumstances to blind us and to drive us “mad” in the sense that we allow them to overtake our vision of the future. In our times of trouble, we tend to mourn the darkness when we could be building a castle. We don’t have to accept and wallow in circumstances that seem beyond our control. We may not be able to keep troubles from coming our way, but we have full control of what we make of ourselves during such times.

So, go build that castle on a hill, and let your colors fly. 🙂


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