Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ultimately, we rise or crumble,

It’s become such a widely-used phrase that it’s even transcended into the secular lexicon: God only gives us what we can handle.

Yet, within the meaning of that phrase, that belief – which suggests that we are somehow preordained for a heroic role – the individual plight is lost. And, without delving into theology or questioning one’s spiritual beliefs, I’ve witnessed a much different perspective to facing adversity: We only handle that which we choose to handle.

See, within adversity, there’s always a specific choice – that is, to rise as the Phoenix or to crumble as a house of cards. And, yes, we all have the capacity for both, where in moments we can teeter in-between. However,  where the will and choice is ours.

I’ve seen plenty crumble, choosing not to fight, not to implement free will in the face of adversity. I’ve seen those who have given up the moment that times get tough in health, relationships, careers. But, I’ve never witnessed anyone who wasn’t ultimately equipped to face adversity. It’s as they say in any rehabilitation program, You have the tools. It’s your choice whether to use them.

And, yet, I’ve also seen so many make the immediate choice to rise. An acquaintance of mine, with twin 13-year-old daughters, lost his wife to multiple sclerosis. While he rightfully could have given up on all – only seeing how unjust life can be – he sought counseling and healing, and he said to me, “I lost the love of my life, but I will not let it rob me of my love for life.”

For those of us who face adversity on a daily basis – and rise – we learn to dance with it gracefully. Yes, there are routinely challenging moments. However, instead of being discouraged by them, we move through them, then release them. Again, it’s a choice that we have, to go into adversity, succeed in spite of it, then release it, letting it go. And, that’s when we rise.

Now, there are those who are very humble in their plights of choosing to address adversity, not running from it, noting, for example, “I’m the parent of a special needs child. Being there however needed is what parents simply do. It’s just right.” However, unfortunately, that parental mindset is not a given. Lot’s of parents choose not to be parents after all. From one parent choosing to exit the picture, to special needs children as among the highest at-risk groups for foster care, not all parents choose to face adversity. Among the most painful experiences of my life was several years ago when I visited a live-in care facility for special needs children. I was struck by how active and engaged the children were, perplexed why they we’re there and not living at home? “Most of the children’s parents here are quite affluent, and the child’s special needs don’t fit their lifestyle,” the director told me. Not all parents do what’s right. Some choose not to embrace adversity with their children, but choose to shun it. Therefore, those parents who choose to embrace adversity with their children cannot be taken for granted – their choice is among the most noble in humanity.

Within all of this, then, is the key to adversity. If we choose to crumble, life stops and joy dissolves.

 However, if we choose with tenacity to face adversity, move through it, then release it, we will rise.

 Adversity isn’t a choice, but facing it is. And, the fact is this: we’re all equipped to face adversity, and when we do, we rise.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Never Enough is sometimes more than enough!


I’ve spent my whole life not being enough. Truly, from my birth, onward, I’ve never been enough. The doctors had no idea what to do with me and thought I should be institutionalized.. Mrs. Graves, my fifth-grade public school teacher, fought to keep me of her classroom because I wasn’t physically on par with the other students.  Waitresses have refused to serve me, and even in 2014, I still occasionally face discrimination because in the eyes of some strangers, I am not enough.

And, it remains the case, that in so many situations and perceptions, I am not enough. However, I want to share with you a very fitting story about what it’s like to face such a struggle, what it means to be labeled, to go through life as never being enough. See, when I was around 12, I desperately pursued my physical independence, knowing that in a world that didn’t view me as enough, I was in a race for survival. And, so as part of enhancing my physical strength toward independent living skills, I began going out every day after school and pushed my manual wheelchair along the street in front of my house. What most don’t know is I only have 2 fingers on my left hand that function, and limited muscles in my left forearm hence why I have been classed as a quad. I started racing and pushing that racer was painful and a was a tremendous struggle. I fought to get both hands on the push rims, and gave a single thrust of the wheelchair, throwing my body into spasms – then, as the wheelchair coasted to a stop, I started the process all over again. I have NEVER told anyone just how painful this was not even my parents.

However, it wasn’t physically pushing the manual wheelchair that was the biggest challenge. Rather, it was the literal voices along the block. A few neighborhood kids of my age taunted me every day, calling me retard, mocking me with spastic gestures, telling me I was not enough, that I couldn’t even push a wheelchair correctly.

Nevertheless, every day for that school year, I put myself in the line of ridicule and humiliation and pushed that wheelchair up and down the block, literally being told I wasn’t enough with each challenging push of the wheels. It was a set schedule: I pushed my wheelchair, and the other kids followed along humiliating me. It was painful and scary and enraging and embarrassing, but I had to endure it for my greater good.

That one year taught me a lot about not being enough. In pushing that a wheelchair, all the while being mocked, I didn’t merely improve my physical abilities, I developed perseverance, determination and autonomy. I wasn’t pushing to be enough to the other kids or the rest of those who discounted me. Rather, I was pushing my own race to become more than enough.

The fact is, I’ll never be enough. Heck, I had an ex-girlfriend give me a written list of why I wasn’t worthy of her love, and I still face public discrimination and humiliation from time to time. I will never meet certain standards or be enough as a person in the eyes of some.

So, then, how are many aspects of my life explained? If I am not enough, how did I go on to successful careers in the sports industry,broadcasting, writing and speaking? If I was not enough to my fifth-grade teacher, how was I able to go on to college and university? If I have not been enough of a man in the view of some strangers, how have I succeeded in raise 6 beautiful children and have 2 great grand children? If I am not good enough then how could I be the only Canadian to represent Canada at multi Olympics/Paralympics for both winter and summer and medal. The list goes on and on, but the point is, despite my never being enough in the eyes of so many, how have I, to the contrary, had so many successes?

The answer is universal. We should never strive to be enough in the eyes of others – it’s a low bar to measure ourselves. Instead, we should ignore the false ceilings that others place upon us and instead push to our own best abilities. And, in that process an amazing transformation occurs: we eclipse never being enough by actually becoming more than enough.