The worst day of my life happened on September 29, 1961. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. This was the day my parents put my brothers and I on an airplane from Havana, Cuba to Miami, Florida as part of a program called Operation Peter Pan.

The aforementioned date was two-and-one-half years after Fidel Castro’s takeover of the Cuban government. The chaos and destruction that followed his “revolution” would lead many Cuban parents to do the unthinkable; send their children unaccompanied to the USA not knowing the fate that awaited them.

I have never suffered so much emotional pain as I did on that day. The sense of helplessness not knowing when I would see my parents and my home again was enormous. The abandonment I felt when my grandfather did not show up at the Miami airport after we arrived compounded my despondency.

This major life event led to an era of great suffering. This was the beginning of a four-year stint in an American Orphanage that culminated when my parents got out of Cuba and rescued us from this difficult place. But our problems did not end when my brothers and I reunited with our parents. What followed was decades of poverty, culture shock, discrimination, and the struggle to survive my parents’ broken-down marriage. There were many times during these years I hoped for my death.

Despite the pain, helplessness and hopelessness I suffered for so long, I am grateful today for these experiences. Because of them, I can remain calm and collected under the most difficult situations. Today, I am grounded by these painful experiences, for I know there will never be an event in my life so difficult that I cannot handle it.

Life is a marathon 

It feels weird to say painful things are good for you, but they are. Think back on a difficult time in life. Remember where you were before and after the event. Sure, you suffered greatly when a life change took your security and comfort away, but maybe, as a result, you found your true calling, a true love, perhaps you started a family or found your heart’s home. The pain, helplessness and hopeless your change triggered allowed you to discover these treasures.

If you can stop lamenting the loss of your old self, you can begin to appreciate how the change was necessary to make room for you to grow. Once you release old beliefs and traditions, doors will open to a brand-new way of life where you can redefine everything. When you experience this release, you will rejoice in knowing the sun always rises and the river of life continues to flow.

Having the knowledge that pain, hopelessness and helplessness are a long-term benefit in someone’s life does not mean we should stand by and watch others suffer. It is important to extend a helping hand to the afflicted. When you think about it, it was through the help of others you got through your time of suffering. We can pay this forward with our kindness to others. We can go on with our lives stronger and better than we were before.

As always, may your life be filled with joy, love and serenity.

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