The Will to Live

The parents, Jordan and Andre Anchondo, had just dropped off their five year old daughter for cheerleading practice. They drove to the Walmart in El Paso with plans to buy school and party supplies, as that same daughter was turning six and had a party coming up that afternoon. They had just celebrated their one year anniversary on July 30, 2019. They had just built a new home together. To hear their extended family members talk about them, they were happy people, loving parents and had every reason to think that the start of school, birthday parties and cheer practice heralded the beginning of a wonderful academic year.

They parked with dozens of other families with similar purposes in mind, got baby Paul, age two months, out of the car, and went inside to start their shopping.

Soon, shots rang out. One, two, three, then groups of shots. Rapid fire. Pop, pop, pop, pop-pop-pop-pop. Instinctively, for how else could it have happened, Jordan enfolded and protected and shielded her tiny child from the rain of bullets. In that desperate moment, she must have known that her entire reason for being, her entire driving force as a human mother of this fragile, helpless infant was to keep him alive. She must have had little if any time to think about herself, her own wellbeing, her own life. She had one purpose. She rose to it with infinite love as only a mother can. She cradled Paul.

Her husband Andre, whose life had been immeasurably blessed by his time with this woman, by her love for him and their love for their newborn and the rest of their family, heard and saw what was happening. We can only imagine that, like Jordan, he had precious few seconds to ponder the situation he found himself and his family in. He had little time to weigh his prospects, craft a plan. He could not afford the time it would take to decide. He acted, jumping in front of his wife and only son, shielding them from the murderous hate that came for them in a stream of deadly projectiles.

Andre died.

Jordan, blood flowing, succumbed to the onslaught of bullets and fell to the floor, never failing to protect her son. When the moments of terror ceased, little Paul was pulled from under his dying mother’s body. He suffered broken fingers, but he was alive. His mother, Jordan Anchondo, would never hold him again.

The will to live is a psychological force to fight for self-preservation at virtually any cost. There is an element of conscious and unconscious reasoning behind it. Wikipedia tells us that German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer first named this force that keeps us alive. There are other drives, as you are well aware, including the drive to find food and shelter, to find a suitable mate, to reproduce, to maintain dominance over others, and to connect with others of our own kind. Psychologists agree that all of these biological drives are important. Paramount, however, is the drive to exist, to live, to continue our lives. We, as biological beings, must ensure the preservation of the species. Absent this, of course, literally nothing else matters.

We do what we do, in all sorts of conditions and circumstances and situations, to stay alive as long as we possibly can. We survive abuse. We live through terrible wars. We battle cancer. We seek treatment for addiction to alcohol and drugs. We even cradle our tiny, helpless children in our arms, shielding them from almost certain death, even as we are willing to lose our own lives to save theirs, to make sure that life goes on.

We will push for survival at all costs, even at the brink of sure and certain death.

Self-preservation has two components, pain and fear. In the El Paso shooting, we must believe that the fear component lead to safety seeking, a rush of adrenaline, increased physical strength in the moment, and markedly heightened senses of sight, hearing and smell. Jordan and Andre knew, consciously and most likely unconsciously, that they were in a fight for survival, and they acted accordingly with little hesitation.

An article in Stanford Medicine teaches us one more very important aspect of this drive and its interaction with the possibility of imminent death.

The will to live involves hope.

Hope is manifested by a positive attitude, a view toward the future and one’s place in it.

Hope, almost paradoxically, also involves acceptance of one’s fate in life, even when faced with a hailstorm of bullets.

Live your every day with gusto. Have hope for the future. Mourn the loss of precious life, but embrace the tenacious will to go on that allowed two courageous parents in El Paso, Texas to pass along the gift of life to their two month old son.