Monday, September 30, 2013

Should I surrender, or should I fight on?

Should I surrender or should I fight on?


by Stephen Martin, MFT.


In May 1988 my father died of prostate cancer. His last words before his consciousness left his body were, “I’m distressed. Do I surrender, or do I fight on?” What a wonderful expression of the greatest dilemma we all face. At death, it becomes paramount. When do we surrender, and when do we fight on?


The Eastern philosophy tends to guide humans into acceptance, not into struggle. Surrender does release stress, but stress is essential for change. Change is traumatic. In times of change we cannot surrender; we have to fight on.


Of course there are two ways of fighting. Violence has been mankind’s default position for mastery over others and self-defense. However, nonviolence became popular with Gandhi and it worked magic forcing the British to leave India in the 20th century.


After Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King succeeded with nonviolence. Of course, such leaders were excessively persecuted, jailed and spied upon. Martin Luther King was placed in jail over 100 times just for asking for equality in this country, which promised liberty and justice for all. But in the original U.S. Constitution, those promises didn’t apply to women, slaves, homosexuals or non-land-owning human beings.

For my father, whether or not to continue to live on was his dilemma. Fighting on was difficult, as he was at the end stages of prostate cancer. He was a dead man walking. So at the end he mused aloud about whether to slip quietly into that long deep sleep of separation from his body and consciousness, or stay in the human form and fight on.


I believe Alcoholics Anonymous has the most accurate answer to this question. It’s called the Serenity Prayer, and the original version is often attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr.


God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time; 
enjoying one moment at a time; 
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it; 
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life 
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.


What a beautiful description of dilemmas such as my father’s. The conflict is within us all — when to fight for change, and when to surrender to what is.




Stephen Martin is a marriage and family therapist with offices in Moss Beach. He can be reached at 650-726-1212 or by email at His website is

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