I wrote this blog two days after Otto Warmbier was returned home. Sadly he has passed away in the last 24 hours.
The tragic story of Otto Warmbier was in the news recently and it doesn’t look like a happy ending. Much of his story was buried by the shooting at the Republican Congressional baseball practice. His father stood and talked at a press conference and answered questions the day after Otto was returned home. As Fred Warmbier represented the family his voice only cracked once and that was when he identified the jacket he was wearing as the same one his son was last seen wearing in a North Korea propaganda video.
He was a vibrant and very much alive college student when he left home but since January of 2016 he has been held by this rouge and ugly nation. A few days ago he was flown home in a medical plane and the news was shared . . . he is in a coma.
I watched the three doctors from the University of Cincinnati explain that his chances of functioning again were very slim.
There are things that can happen in our life that literally turn everything we know upside down. There are moments that threaten to paralyze us and send us into a voluntary retreat. There are events that are life changing, traumatic, heartbreaking and even stifling to our lives and future. I am made to pause and think about the possible scenario that Otto may live with the rest of his life. He is in what his doctors call “a state of unresponsive wakefulness.”
When I heard this phrase I couldn’t quit thinking about it. It reminds me of what can happen to us if we allow traumatic circumstances or life issues to paralyze us from our future or even our today. Supposedly Otto will open his eyes but it is not connected to anything going on around him.
What is it like to be in an emotional coma? Because of things that have happened in your life you allow yourself to emotionally barely breathe or function. You shut down and if you are not careful you shut others out. You are awake but you dare not be responsive because to do so will make you vulnerable and you have learned that people can be cruel. People will judge you without knowing the whole story. People will take sides. I have yet to have anyone ask me point blank what happened? (I’ve told my story to a few people but most assume they know enough to judge.) People will walk away from you and shun you. People will protest you by trying to hurt you economically if you are running a business. (I guess the logic is “We will show her or him just how much we disagree with their actions by pulling our business or friendship away.) People are flawed, even the ones that think they are not or can’t give themselves permission to be honest.
So . . . it is easy to want to drift into the solitude of an emotional coma. It is easy to want to narrow your friendships down to a precious few and run from the crowd. I don’t think it’s healthy. I don’t think it has to be or should be this way.
I hope that against the odds, Otto finds his way back to his family and out of his “state of unresponsive wakefulness.” And I hope for you and I, that we don’t allow ourselves or our story to keep us in an “emotional state of unresponsive wakefulness.” Allow yourself to be alive. Allow yourself to find joy. Allow yourself to accept the new. Allow yourself to laugh and even cry when it is healthy. If you need forgiveness from God, He offers it unconditionally and if He has forgiven you and He hasn’t walked away from you rise up out of the coma and let God fill your life with His goodness.