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I first encountered this story as a brief report on the news a few weeks back. Since then I have thought about it a great deal and, recently, I downloaded the film of the same title to get a fuller picture of the man, Rob Jones. Survive. Recover. Live. (The Rob Jones Story) grabbed my imagination on many levels. Rob Jones is a Marine, a wounded warrior, and a man formed by humility and grace. I think you will be taken by him as much as I am.
In 2010, Rob was a Lance Corporal in the U.S.M.C. serving in Afghanistan as a combat engineer. His job was to find IEDs and destroy them so that they could do no harm to his fellow Marines out on patrol. On one occasion, though, the IED found him first. He had stepped on it, and it changed his world forever.
He lost both legs immediately. This young man, who his fellow Marines and friends had come to love for his dedication, as well as his sense of humor, was torn apart by one of the largest IED's they'd ever encountered. He knew he was badly injured. But his friends said that his first comment was, "Have I lost anything important? If I have, just shoot me." Even in that moment, he was using his humor to begin to deal with the problems he now had to face.
Rob's high school friend, Ivan Kander, made the documentary. The title comes from Rob himself when he was asked to describe his experiences since that day. He survived injuries so severe that they would change him forever. He went through the terrible pain, hard work and difficulties of recovery, and he chooses to accept what he cannot change and move on, make something out of it, instead of sinking into an inner swamp of self-pity and despair.
Survival from the massive injuries sustained by Rob Jones that day could be seen as both a miracle and a curse. He would have to live without his legs. But he was alive, and his core personhood was undamaged, indeed it was made even greater. He had to endure pain, hallucinations from medications, and the nightmares he would experience every time he closed his eyes. But he was able to do this, aided by his unique sense of humor and his almost superhuman love of life.
When he was well enough to be sent back to the States for more extensive surgeries to stabilize his wounds and begin healing, he wanted to ease his mother's fears about meeting him for the first time in this condition. He kept asking for a funny hat that he could wear when he arrived at Walter Reed, in order to soften the reunion with his inimical humor. He was unable to find one, but on his arrival at Walter Reed, his mother greeted him bearing a silly pirate's hat for him to wear. Somehow his friends got the news to her, and she met the challenge with her own grace.
In the recovery stage, he had to adapt to the artificial legs he would now be dependent upon. He would experience the phantom sensations of those lost limbs, feeling as if they were still there. And he would experience the phantom pains, where the mind is so tricked that it still senses the pain that is, in actuality, not there. Amazingly, Rob said, "The whole thing hasn't been all that difficult. I'm just kind of going through it." That has always been this young man's attitude. He is proof that attitude is everything. He has never lost his optimism, his positive outlook on life. The closest he comes to a negative thought is that he's the kind of person who likes to take care of others, not to be taken care of.
When he was in rehab he told his physical therapist that he wanted to be able to walk by November 10. Why that date? It's the Marine Corps' birthday. He wanted to go to the Marine Corps Ball and – he did! He got out of his wheelchair and walked with the aid of canes into the Marine Corps ball, dressed in his crisp dress blues, along with many of his friends.
As for the living, Lance Corporal, Rob Jones goes into it with the attitude that, "What you can't change, make the best out of it." He is currently training for the Paralympics Triathlon, and to ride a bike for a cross country road trip. Rob Jones is a model to all of us, not just his fellow wounded warriors. He is an example of what human beings are capable of, even if damaged by life's vagaries. He teaches us about perseverance and courage. When he hits a wall, he just climbs up over it and moves on.
Ivan Kander, the film maker and friend, who tells Rob's story with the sensitivity of a friend and the wonder of one who is confronted with a human being who is better than most, says at the end of the film, "If you know what the end is going to be; if you know the punch line of a joke before it ends, then, really, there's no reason to live, or to laugh." Rob Jones teaches us how to live and to laugh by choosing to live into life, no matter what it has done to you, with a sense of humor, and optimism.
I am moved deeply by this young Marine. Watch Survive. Recover. Live. (The Rob Jones Story). Do it. You, too, will come away from it with a better sense of life and how to live it.