My wife and I are saddened by the very recent loss of her father, Gerry Staton. In honor of him, I want to share an excerpt from The Power of Losing Control that discusses faith. Gerry, you will be truly missed.
Faith is the Antidote to Fear
“Not truth, but faith it is that keeps the world alive.”
—Edna St. Vincent Millay
Faith is the most powerful tool there is for achieving the power of letting go. It’s daunting for us to decide to let go of anything (like the bar of the flying trapeze) unless and until we know there will be a “next thing” to grab onto. The problem is, of course, that we can’t know the future, and so we are constantly faced with either having to take that leap of faith or continue to try to cling to what we know. Doing that dooms us to more pain, discomfort, and unhappiness because to try to remain static in a dynamic and changing world is not natural. In fact, it’s not even possible.
Another man whose story embodies the meaning of true faith as well as any that I know is Gerry Staton. Gerry was born on New Year’s Day in 1925, the oldest of three boys and one younger sister. When he was four years old, his three-year-old brother died of typhoid fever; three months later his dad died of typhoid, and a month after that his mother died of the same illness. He still remembers her last words to him: “Be a good boy, and God will take care of you and guide your way.” A year later, Gerry helplessly watched as a drunk driver ran over and killed his one remaining brother, leaving him and his little sister totally alone in the world. During those Depression years few people could afford to feed an extra mouth for very long, and so Gerry and his sister were, for the most part, separated and raised in a series of foster homes.
At the age of seventeen, Gerry enlisted in the marines. As a Marine, he participated in landings at the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, and New Britain. In New Britain, he contracted scrub typhus and was put in a mosquito-ridden tent with thirty-two other guys who also had typhus. For the next week, he lay on his cot listening to his tent-mates petitioning and bargaining with God for their lives. Seven days later there were three men, including Gerry, left alive.
After the war, he returned home, married, started a successful insurance business, and became the father of a son and two daughters. Three years ago, I married his eldest daughter.
As I listened to Gerry tell me his story, I had to ask him what it was he thought of in that tent, and this is what he told me. “Well,” he said, “I was praying, too, but just the regular prayers I always said. What got me through was thinking about how good a Coney Island hot dog would taste when I got back to Ohio. I used to really love Coney dogs.”
Everyone Has a Reason Not to Have Faith – True Faith Can Triumph
If there’s anyone who had good reason not to have faith, it was Gerry Staton. But all his life he had carried with him and trusted the faith he’d received from his mother. Faith is knowing that which you have no real reason to believe. Based on his past, Gerry had good reason to justify mythical fears about “the fever” and think about how ironic it would be for him to travel half way around the world only to die of the same disease that had killed his mother, father, and brother. But instead, he had faith in a different story. And because of his mother’s promise, he didn’t focus his energy on anything except what he would do when he got home. He was driven by faith rather than by fear, and, while we can’t know for sure, that faith may well have played a significant role in his ability to survive while so many of the other men in that tent died. Given the workings of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, it isn’t hard to imagine that Gerry’s faith may have helped him physically as well as emotionally.
…and at 2:00 am on October 28, 2012, Gerry went gently into that good night.
Excerpt from Chapter 6 of The Power of Losing Control.