The unbreakable will of the human spirit

In her memoir, Girl with the Crooked Smile: Stuck in a Moment, excerpted here, Darah Zeledon MA ‘00 takes readers on an intense and moving journey that begins with her diagnosis of a brain tumor. At the time pregnant with the fourth of her five children and living in Latin America, she undergoes surgery that steals the hearing in one ear and leaves her face deformed. But those concerns quickly take a backseat to dealing with the hardships that follow: a suicide, an armed robbery, a gruesome accident and a business collapse that leaves her family penniless. Zeledon confronts reality with courage as she fights to keep her sanity and, along the way, finds the strength to share her newfound insight.

DZ FRONT COVER 041013Over a period of six difficult years, I had become a chameleon, a true master at adapting to the fluctuations of fate. A realist who never lost hope, I embarked each day on a personal journey to start fresh, as if yesterday’s bad luck never existed.

All the suffering, stress and losses have made me into the person I am today. During this metamorphosis, I became a warrior as I traveled a labyrinth of instability and insecurity.

When my life began to unfold like a soap opera, there were only two choices: adapt and plough through, or shrivel up and perish. I chose the former. My family looked to me to be strong, to hold it together. So I dove into a parallel reality and fancied myself a soldier. By evoking my rich childhood imagination and assuming the mindset of a combatant, I pushed on through years of darkness.

Now, life was better. Our existence no longer was defined solely by a struggle to survive; conflicts that previously had zapped all our energies and time now almost entirely disappeared from our everyday life. A semblance of routine and stability filled the void of gratuitous chaos.

The familiar cries of my loyal companions—anxiety and desperation—slowly died down. I found solace in writing. I preferred this form of communication above all others, perhaps due to my sensory impairments and inability to multitask.

Throughout it all, I grew in character and depth. I learned to handle crisis like a full-fledged grownup.

And despite this newfound adulthood, I discovered that even in the aftermath of radical life-changing experiences, a residual part of my former self still lingered. Somehow I would have to embrace it all and integrate the old, carefree dabbler with the new, war-torn me.

Despite this existential tug of war that assaults my soul, each day I strive to channel a smorgasbord of emotions, destructive tendencies and impulses in a positive direction. Because if nothing else, I’ve learned that problems are disguised opportunities for personal growth.

My overriding goal is this: discover what I am made of so I can strive to be the woman I want to see reflected in my children’s eyes. They and my loving husband keep me on task. My life force is driven by a hunger to be accountable to them.

My story is just one of many that are testament to the unbreakable will of the human spirit. For so many of us, the struggles of the heart never end. We must trust in the process, for growth and character are born from pain and suffering. There are no ways around this, no shortcuts. An easy life will not yield the same results.

When trouble strikes, all we can do is stay the course and wait out the storm. Persevere. We have to find comfort in, or in spite of, the uncertainty, and accept that many of life’s questions are unanswerable.   

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