Ramona O. Hopkins, chair of the department of psychology, addressed students in the Marriott Center Tuesday on finding the meaning in adversity.
In 1981, Hopkins' four-year-old son Joshua became trapped underneath a garage door and after six weeks in the intensive care unit, it was determined he would need full-time, long-term care. A lack of oxygen to the brain, or anoxia, had left him without the ability to speak or walk.
"We were young, untrained, and unprepared for the drastic changes and extreme challenges that had come uninvited into our relatively calm life," Hopkins said. "Even though I was a nurse and thought I knew what to expect, I was wrong. We were completely overwhelmed but we learned to manage our life by taking it one day at a time, two days was beyond our ability to cope or manage."
Hopkins and her husband, Scott, took Joshua home and began physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and cognitive rehabilitation. She studied the effects of anoxia on the brain and soon realized she needed to return to school for a doctoral degree in psychology.
The process of caring for her son, as well as her doctoral studies, were long and difficult journeys, during which she and her husband learned some very important lessons.
One lesson was the importance of education and life-long learning, a reinforcement that followed lessons from her father, who had always valued education.
"When my now husband Scott asked my father permission to marry me, my father's response was not 'How will you provide for my daughter?' but 'How will you see that she completes her education?'" Hopkins recalled.
Other lessons were to laugh often and to serve where you are called.
"An act of service can have long lasting effects and touch many lives," Hopkins said. "I learned service from my parents, a lesson which was refined and enlarged by Josh's accident, and later by serving my parents after their health failed due to Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. There was rarely a day that went by that my mother didn't call, checking on each one of her children – particularly her daughters."
In addition, the Hopkins family learned the importance of reflection and gratitude. Hopkins said, "Josh’s experience has taught us all that each individual needs some quiet time to think, ponder and reflect. It is especially important to make time for reflection and gratitude, even when dealing with adversity, to reflect on the many ways we are blessed in this life."
Hopkins reminded everyone that they can choose how to respond to adversity. She quoted Victor Frankl's book "Man's Search for Meaning" in which he detailed his and others' experiences as prisoners in Auschwitz and other camps. Some individuals did not allow the situation and their treatment in the camps to dehumanize them. Dr. Frankl wrote, "We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
"We can choose our response to adversity," Hopkins said. "We can be bitter and angry. We can choose to let it fester, canker and destroy who we are. Or we can learn to love, forgive, accept and learn from our fate, and forget ourselves in the service of others.
"Adversity in some form will likely come into all our lives. For some of us it might be a light dusting while for others it may appear as an insurmountable all encompassing avalanche. If we rely on the Lord, we can not only survive adversity, we can learn, grow and thrive."