I woke up this morning thinking of my old friend Jim Maclaren, who was one of the most remarkable men I ever knew.

I wrote a profile about Jim years ago for GQ magazine, documenting his extraordinary journey, and we remained friends after that story was published. Jim had been a handsome, young, athletic, Yale drama school-trained aspiring actor back in the 1980s, when he was hit by a bus one day and lost his leg. He courageously pulled his life back together after this trauma and went on to become the fastest amputee long-distance triathlete in the world, regularly finishing Iron Man races far ahead of his able-bodied competitors. He also became a motivational speaker, and, if anything, grew into a better and more successful man than he'd been before his accident.

And then, unbelievably, in 1993 he was hit by a car AGAIN while competing in a triathlon…and this time he became a paraplegic. (As he himself said in response to such a horrible run of double-bad luck: "Jesus fuck, for fuck's sake, can you fucking believe it?!") After this disaster, he fell into despair and became a drug addict, until the moment of his catharsis — the moment that he decided not only to live, but to search tirelessly (almost mythically) for greatest benefit that he could possibly draw from his broken destiny. He stubbornly committed to asking himself, Who was the best person he could become, after such suffering? What could this anguish specifically teach him about compassion, about the randomness of our lives, about grace, about surrender? He told me, "For the longest time, my goal was only to be able to walk across the room. But then I remembered what my real goals in life have always been — to know God, to know myself, to know wisdom, to know my fellow man. And was I going to get there by walking across the room? Or did I need to change my focus, and expand it?"

But what I will always remember about Jim most clearly is when he told me, "Never waste your suffering." This was in response to a question I'd asked him about whether he thought that suffering makes us into better people. He said, "Not necessarily. Not automatically. Suffering just happens, constantly and randomly, and if you don't make anything out of it, then it happened to you for no reason. But suffering can also be the greatest possible invitation to transform — but only if you accept that invitation, and only if you go through a complete catharsis, and only if you actually change yourself because of what you've experienced. But that part is up to you. Only you can execute a catharsis in your own life. SUFFERING WITHOUT CATHARSIS IS NOTHING BUT WASTED PAIN. (caps mine.) And you should never waste your pain, never waste your suffering. It's powerful stuff, the most powerful stuff there is. Use it. Transform from it. Learn. Grow. Be better."

Jim MacLaren died in 2010 (his injuries and infections finally defeated him) but I have never forgotten his words, his determination. And while I have never suffered nearly as deeply in life as Jim did, I have certainly suffered (we all do; it's the human universal) and I have tried as hard as possible to learn by his extraordinary example — to never waste my suffering, when it occurs. To use it — to tirelessly try to use it — to get closer to God, closer to myself, closer to my fellow man. To never skip the catharsis by focusing only on the pain.

So that's what I woke up thinking about this morning, and I wanted to share it with all of you.

Blessings, and Rest in Peace Jim MacLaren.


via Elizabeth Gilbert’s Facebook Wall

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