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Survive. Recover. Live. (The Rob Jones Story)

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 they could do no harm to his fellow Marines out on patrol. But on one occasion, the IED found him first. He 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 IEDs 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.

The documentary was made by Rob’s high school friend Ivan Kander. The title comes from Rob’s description of his life since that day. He survived injuries so severe they would change him forever. He’s suffered terrible pain and the excruciating work of recovery. Now Rob chooses to accept what he can’t change and move on, making as much out of his experiences as possible instead of sinking into an inner swamp of self-pity and despair.

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Rob’s survival from the massive injuries he sustained that day could be seen as a miracle or 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 Rob was well enough to be sent back to the States for more extensive surgeries to stabilize his wounds and begin the long rehabilitation process, he wanted to ease his mother’s fears about seeing him in his condition for the first time. 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.

During Rob’s recovery, he had to adapt to the artificial legs he would now be dependent on. He experienced phantom pain in those lost limbs, as if they were still 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 negative thinking is that he would rather take care of others than be taken care of himself.

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 living his life, Lance Corporal Rob Jones’ attitude is “What you can’t change, make the best out of it.” He is currently training for both the Paralympics Triathlon and a cross country bike trip. Rob Jones is a model to all of us, not just his fellow wounded warriors. He’s an example of what human beings are capable of, no matter what damage they’ve suffered. He teaches us about perseverance and courage. When he hits a wall, he just climbs up over it and moves on.

Filmmaker and friend Ivan Kander says “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 laugh by choosing to really live, no matter what life has done to you, with a sense of humor and optimism.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.