What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger by Dave Jonsson

We’ve often heard it said, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and though most of us would agree with that statement, there is one important ingredient missing from the equation: our attitude towards the thing that almost killed us! An attitude of resiliency is crucial in order to grow stronger. 

Can I tell you about the most painful day of my life? 

It was a warm August summer day in beautiful British Columbia. My best friend was visiting me all the way from Iceland. He had a unique Icelandic name, Guðni Kristinnson. With that kind of name, he soon became the most popular guy among my group of friends. What made Guðni especially cool was that he was a pilot! Many days of his vacation were spent flying to different parts of B.C. On this particular day, Guðni and myself were accompanied by two high school friends, Elliot and Leah. 

We had hoped to visit Squamish, B.C., and in order to fly there from the lower mainland, you first must fly through a beautiful valley called the Indian Arm. As we flew, we were in awe of its beautiful mountains and waterfalls. However, our plans to fly to Squamish were quickly dashed as we came around a bend only to discover clouds had filled the valley ahead. 

Guðni quickly decided it was time to turn back. In retrospect, we should have called it a day and gone home. But in hopes to find another route, we opened the glove compartment and took out the map. Seeing there was another valley beside ours, we took a left into a neighbouring valley. It’s amazing how one decision can change the trajectory of your whole life. In a moment of lapse judgment, we realized we had made a terrible decision. The valley narrowed quickly and we found ourselves trapped, unable to turn around. 

In an attempt to get above the ridge of the mountains, Guðni pulled on the steering wheel of the plane. Headwinds and the weight of the plane restricted us from getting high enough. Instead, Guðni decided he was going to have to try and turn around. 

In order to make the turn, he had to slow the plane down. The anxiety of everyone on board was palpable as Guðni began to turn. As he did, the dreaded noise of the engine stalling echoed into our hearts. In an instant, the nose of the plane began to dip and Guðni screamed, “We’re going down!”

Thinking back to that moment, I believed my life was over. I closed my eyes, extended my legs and braced for impact. My last memory was hearing the tips of the trees hitting the wings.

Then came the moment: we crashed going 120 km/h into the depth of the valley. 

Elliot and Leah remained conscious through the accident and Elliot was quickly able to help Leah out of the plane and find a safe place a little distance away. That’s when he decided to come back and see if he could offer some more help. 

Coming back, he saw Guðni and I were unconscious. The gasoline of the plane drenched the surroundings, it was an incredibly dangerous scenario. Yet, he came back and yelled our names and shook our bodies in hopes of a response. As a last-ditch effort, Elliot took his hand and slapped me across my face, and all of the sudden, I woke up! 

My first words were, “My seatbelt, my seatbelt!” Subconsciously, I knew I was suffocating from the weight that was behind me and the strap of my belt. Finally loose, I could breathe and consciousness flooded my reality. I was alive! 

With glass and blood everywhere, I realized my femur was severely broken and that my leg was pinned underneath my seat. Adrenaline filled my veins, I needed out! As Elliot lifted the seat, I painfully pulled my leg out from underneath. Now free, I got onto Elliot’s back and was carried off to safety. 

Sadly, Guðni’s story was not as hopeful. Elliot went back and found that he had passed away. 

There we lay for five and a half hours, waiting for search and rescue. As my body began to react to the severity of the trauma, the adrenaline quickly was replaced with shock. Shivering and weak, I wondered if we would ever get out alive. I promised myself that if given a second chance at life, I would live my life differently. 

With hope dwindling, finally, we heard the noise of the search and rescue helicopters. Men in orange suits quickly descended down on us like angels. Being in critical condition, I was taken first and flown directly to Royal Columbian Hospital. 

It was there that I was operated on immediately and when I awoke from surgery, I heard some unfortunate news. Due to the severity of the impact, my leg was very broken and my knee ligaments were very torn, so the Doctors told me that I may walk with a limp. 

In the two weeks I stayed in the hospital, I was flooded with love and encouragement from family and friends visiting. They encouraged me to stay strong, and reminded me, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” 

One surprising encouragement would stick in my mind and help reframe my attitude toward the plane crash. It came from a nurse, Betsy, who attended to me during my stay. One quiet night, Betsy pointed to one of the flowers a friend had brought and asked, “Do you know how long it takes for one of these to grow?”

I had no idea. She said, “It takes seven years. You see, the seed needs seven hard cold winters in order to grow a strong enough stem to finally blossom this beautiful flower. And it is true in life as well. We need the cold hard winters of life to cultivate in us the character needed to blossom into the person we’ve been created to be.” Then she said, “Dave, remember with the right attitude, this difficult season of your life can be one that cultivates in you strength, but your attitude towards it will determine the final result.”

I now know what she meant. All these years later, I look back and realize she was right. Pain can be a gift, a tool given to us for refinement, a true agent for growth. 

Though most of us won’t experience a plane crash, we all have things in our lives that have hurt us. Events that brought us to our knees. The point is not to stay there, but instead, realize those things come as a gift to help make us stronger. Don’t curse the crisis, instead, recognize that crisis comes to catapult you to a new, stronger, wiser version of yourself. Enduring the winters of life leads to new seasons of spring, giving way to the journey of blossoming into the person you were always meant to be!  

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