Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Jerry Coffee and the practice of awareness

Almost two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hear CPT Jerry Coffee speak at a dinner event I was attending. CPT Coffee is a well-known and respected veteran who spent over seven years as a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton, largely restricted to a 3x6 foot room. He is a marvelous speaker and person, with a remarkable story.  Let me share some of the key features of his talk.

After being shot down in Vietnam, he was captured, forced to walk for twelve days, and then taken to the famous Hanoi Hilton prison. I visited the Hanoi Hilton back in 1997 and I can tell you that its a heavy, dank place, made of thick concrete. Hard to imagine what it would be like to stay there for seven, long years. It's a museum now, with wax figures lying on wooden racks and terrible lighting. 

CPT Coffee noted that a turning point came for him when he realized that he was going to be a POW for a while. He mistakenly thought he would be released early on, but after several years he realized this was not going to happen. A turning point came when he moved from a perspective of "Why me?" to "What can I learn from being here?". He found a purpose in these events and tried to use them to make his life more productive. As his perspective changed, Coffee noted how each moment and day had valuable lessons to teach. He remarked there were many nights he went to bed feeling he had not done everything he wanted to do.

Another high point of Coffee's speech centered around how the prisoners developed an alphabetic code and began communicating to each others by tapping on walls. Many nights, the most comforting words a prisoner received by "GB" or "God Bless".

I found a clip on Youtube of CPT Coffee story and which is linked here.  I hope you enjoy it.

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