I have heard people say, “No one can immediately change.” That isn't true, though: in the span of a few simple minutes on a sidewalk outside of the Brussels Airport a year and a half ago, my life and who I was changed forever.
Most people probably think that the change in me occurred 15 minutes earlier, though, when I was standing just inside the terminal and two suicide bombers made the final, horrific decision to murder innocent people on March 22, 2016. I was peppered with shrapnel and, as the smoke began to clear, I somehow mustered the strength to run out of the airport despite suffering third degree burns, lacerations, a cracked heel bone and a ruptured Achilles tendon.
My strength didn't take me far, though: soon I was laying on a sidewalk outside of the airport, in pain and a pool of my own blood, facing the reality that my survival — and thus my future — was uncertain.
Looking above helped me to see God clearly and to, in turn, begin the process of forgiving the terrorists who had nearly taken my life.
I felt utterly and entirely alone, freezing cold and surrounded by overwhelming sounds and smells. I had two choices: To either give in to fear and anger, embrace victimization and be a lesser version of myself; or choose to have hope and trust in a power that was greater than my own.
In those difficult moments, I chose the latter — and making that choice gave me the peace I needed on the most hellish day imaginable.
My mind was enlightened; my heart transformed. As I lay there, almost completely incapacitated, I internalized a simple truth that has changed my life ever since those tough moments: We can choose to be the change we wish to see in our own lives.
As a missionary and a lifelong Mormon, I had a deep faith that, in those moments, was deeply tested. But my reliance upon the Lord enabled me to dig deep to find not only forgiveness, but also healing. Looking above helped me to see God clearly and to, in turn, begin the process of forgiving the terrorists who had nearly taken my life.
I had always known, in theory, that forgiveness was an essential facet of my faith, but surviving terror forced me to live that out like never before.
I had always known, in theory, that forgiveness was an essential facet of my faith, but surviving terror forced me to live that out like never before, fostering a spiritual maturity that I hadn’t yet come near developing. Getting to that point, though, required my full reliance on the Almighty to ease the pain, frustration and anger that, at moments, bubbled to the surface during my recovery.
Each time it did, I turned to prayer and worked hard to remember what my faith would have me do. Change isn’t easy; it can be both daunting and uncomfortable and, as human beings, many of us are resistant to it. It’s a natural reaction, but ignoring or rejecting change can prevent us from reaching our true potential and can stop us from living full lives filled with meaning.
I know that getting past our hardest trials is not just some abstract decision that we make before life can simply just “go on.” Still, more often than not, coming to terms with our emotions and overcoming them can unfold as a result of relatively simple choices, though actually making those choices might not be easy.
The actual process of getting past trauma... for me, meant a full surrender to God, intense prayer and an ongoing effort to try and see the terrorists responsible through the same lens that God views them: as human beings who, like me, are sinners and are desperately in need of grace.
Some of the simplest choices can be the hardest ones to make. For example, choosing to forgive someone who did wrong by us, being willing to give someone a second chance or even being honest with ourselves that we are having trouble doing that are, on the surface, not as complex as we tend to make them. The actual process of getting past trauma, anger or bitterness, though, can be more difficult elements to take in, process and put into practice.
For me, this meant a full surrender to God, intense prayer and an ongoing effort to try and see the terrorists responsible through the same lens that God views them: as human beings who, like me, are sinners and are desperately in need of grace. Beyond that, forgiveness really meant freeing myself of negative emotions and, thus, letting go of their grip over my being.
It all boils down to starting on the journey to making these choices. If we want to change our lives and overcome that which holds us back, either physically, emotionally or spiritually, then that desire is only the beginning of a journey that takes us past our current understanding and capability.
It all began by embracing hope in the change to come, the hope that only God could help muster inside of me.
Action isn't an inevitable result of desire, though: If you want to know how much you really want something, look at your actions. If you find that you haven't changed in the ways that you wanted, you have to take steps to achieve what you desire, not simply wish for it.
In the days following the blasts I worked hard to keep an optimistic attitude, despite the fact that, in the weeks that followed, on my best days I could barely get out of bed and do my physical therapy. Several months later, I had to force myself to walk, jog and work on my handwriting in the hope — no matter how faint — that the attack hadn't derailed my dream of attending the U.S. Naval Academy.
Now, as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy, my best continues to become better and I’ve found that change comes easier as time forges on.
A year ago I still walked with a limp on my left leg. Now, most mornings, I am standing at attention in military fatigues at 5:30 am. Along with my classmates at the academy, I run 3 miles, then do another half a mile of bear crawls, half a mile of low crawling, half a mile of burpee broad-jumps (a standing long jump that ends in a push-up), and then finish with buddy carries (carrying a person) the last half a mile. After that, we run 3 miles back.
If anyone had told me, in those hours after the bombing, that I would ever be here, back to full strength, pushing my body more than I had ever before, I might have had a hard time believing it. But now I’m here, and I’m doing what I love.
And it all began by embracing hope in the change to come, the hope that only God could help muster inside of me. Each day since has been a chance to live more than the day before, and even terrorism wasn’t able to stop it.
Mason Wells is a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, where he is studying engineering and is the author of the book "Left Standing."