“Nothing hurt as I lay motionless. The gray sky above me was empty and quiet. In fact it was absolutely still. There was no more shooting, no rotor sounds, no yelling or scratchy radio traffic; there was nothing. It was just still, and my first thought was that maybe I was dead and this was an out of body experience. I could see, or rather feel, this scene on the desert floor: a big piece of the fuselage and me pinned under it.”
This isn’t the beginning, nor is it the end of the story but it is a time of testing for Rhonda. The time to find out if, after all of her physical, mental, and emotional preparedness, she could get through this challenge. Grace and dignity be damned, she would get through this honorably and intact. Rhonda Scott Corman, Ph.D. in Bio-Chemistry, M.D., pilot, flight surgeon, POW in Iraq with two broken arms +, family gal, animal lover and lover of the land tells her story to Peter Copeland in She Went To War. It’s quite the thriller. We knew Rhonda during the 2-3 years she was nearby working on her Ph.D. with a brand new baby, husband, gardens, animals… but that’s all her story to tell. Our common interest was Gordon Setters; a heavy boned, black and tan Scottish setter. These were the dogs our kids grew up with. Picture yourself 2 1/2 feet tall and competing for floor space with four or five four-legged creatures whose eyes are at the exact same level as yours. During a discussion among the grown-ups about how tall one of the dogs was, our 3 year old put her hand out, level with her head and piped up “She’s this tall.” I could say it was a crazy time but why? It was just time, and the stuff of our lives. As our Wizard friend, Gandalf, tells our adventurer, Frodo: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time we are given.” (‘Lord of the Rings’ by J.R.R. Tolkien) Rhonda seemed to do more with the time she had than just about anyone else I know. She completed her doctoral work in less than 3 years, an undertaking that often takes more like 6-7 years. We’ve followed her story from afar and over and over again we’d murmur, “Yup, that’s Rhonda”. It was during a gym conversation that the topic of women in the military came up, right after a piece on “60 Minutes”. I was asked more specific questions about Rhonda than I had answers for. And that’s when I found The Rhonda Corman Story. For me it is a rare, and intimate, glimpse into the intentional preparing for whatever happens and, certainly, for the last great adventure of this life. Way before Rhonda ever left on the Search and Rescue mission she tells us:
I’d talked about dying in my final letters to my family…I wanted my family to know why I went to war…and that if anything happened to me, they should remember that I chose to be here….My worst fear was…
I’m not going to tell you, but I will give some hints.
“The medics and I set up our aid station…a sign inside the tent advised our patients, “Suffering Is Stupid, but Whining Is Worse!”. That’s one of my philosophies in life; it’s stupid to be miserable if you don’t have to be, but having made yourself as comfortable as possible, then don’t complain because it doesn’t do any good.”
After being dragged from the wreckage by Iraqi soldiers and forced to follow them through the cold, damp desert, limping and bleeding Rhonda thinks “Thank goodness for the pain.” And “Nobody ever died from pain”. Referring to her arms as “hanging like meat” at her sides, as long as there was pain she knew they were still attached to her body.
“I had thought occasionally about dying, especially when we deployed to Saudi Arabia and we were preparing for war. I did that on purpose though; it was part of my psychological survival plan. In any dangerous situation, I always try to imagine the worst that can happen to me. Then whatever does happen has to be better, or at least no worse.” It was in that cell that I first realized I had not lost everything. For a few moments, I even found my sense of humor intact. That was when my concerns over the big issues of torture, captivity, the Military Code of Conduct, and even Death, evaporated in the face of a more immediate problem: I had to go to the bathroom”.
This Is The Work Of Mindful Dying
Most of us will never experience what Rhonda has. Most of us will, however, face our own time of testing. A test not on if we get through a big challenge but how. We really can chose whether we want to be a whiner or not. “It’s not our experiences that form us but the ways in which we respond to them; a hurricane sweeps through town, reducing everything to rubble, and one man sees it as a liberation, a chance to start anew, while another, perhaps even his brother, is traumatized for life. “There is nothing either good or bad,” as Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “but thinking makes it so.” So much of our lives takes place in our heads—in memory or imagination, in speculation or interpretation— that sometimes I feel that I can best change my life by changing the way I look at it. As America’s wisest psychologist, William James, reminded us, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” It’s the perspective we choose—not the places we visit—that ultimately tells us where we stand.” (The Adventures of Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer, excerpted in Tricycle Magazine 3/23/15).
P.S. Read The Book – it’s a quick read, plenty of pictures, and it tells the rest of the story! Check out our FaceBook Page for a compendium of Mindful Dying relevant articles, and may we all be prepared for our Last Great Adventure of This Life.