by Billie Willmon Jenkin (Guest Author)
One of the poems I love sharing is “Richard Cory,” by Edward Arlington Robinson. A short narrative about a man who had it all (money, looks, charm, etc., ad nauseum) and was greatly envied by others, ends abruptly with the words,
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
How often we – like the “people on the pavement” in Robinson’s story – judge the qualities of others’ lives based on what we can see. Then, comparing our own images (looks, bank accounts, education, etc.) to others’, judge ourselves as “less than” or “more than.” We all can fill in the following blanks… likely with many qualities:
- “ I don’t have enough ____.”
- “I wish I were more/ less____.”
Yet, around us, live shining exceptions to the “rules” we make up about happiness. One such exception burns in my memory for the example he set for youth.
“Sam” served as an adult leader for a 4-H group in Texas when my sons were active a couple of decades ago. Probably what first caught one’s eye about Sam were the two prostheses extending from his shirtsleeves. Next, one noticed his height and general appearance of health. Very quickly: the twinkle in his eye that warned of the unexpected. What others could not see was that inside his boots and jeans resided prostheses for both lower legs. Sam walked with a sort of a swagger, but then so did most cowboys these 4-H’ers knew.
Not long after the teens met Sam, his visible differences mattered little. Apart from not being able to eat sandwiches (His Cap’n Hook-like prostheses cut the bread into odd shapes and left a mess in his lap), his only other stated limitation was playing basketball (Those great mechanical appendages poked holes in the rubber). However, he transformed those prosthetic hands into a feature, channeling his humor whenever he saw opportunity.
An example of this channeling of humor occurred when he danced. Youth gatherings generally attract more girls who want to dance than guys willing to be their partners. So, Sam willingly obliged. One particular evening, he danced (probably a two-step) with a girl from our county organization. As was the gentlemanly custom of the time, after the dance he guided her back to her seat, with his right “hand” about waist level. Smoothly, however, he slid the hook into the back loop of her jeans. So, reaching her chair, she tried to turn around, she found Sam had “anchored” her into position. The more she squirmed, the bigger the laughs from friends who watched with good-natured appreciation. Sam had turned his limitation into a feature. From then on, everyone seemed to forget they had ever considered Sam limited
Sam was indeed a larger-than-life person. Born with all his limbs, shortly after he married, a single careless move robbed him of them all. It was a beautiful day; so he was on the roof putting-up a television antenna. The metal structure touched a power line, and he was immediately electrocuted. The fall from the roof to the ground saved his life; he was rushed to the hospital for lengthy treatment.
Imagine for a moment being a newlywed… with all the hopes and expectations one often has: A good career; the joy of doing things together; the hope of having a family…. All these appeared shattered in a single moment. Had I found myself in Sam’s (or his bride’s) position, I likely would have crumbled totally; for at that time, I had no idea how important my attitude was to EVERYTHING in life. And even if I had realized my attitude’s importance, I did not realize that I could control it.
Somehow, Sam (likely with his bride’s encouragement) managed to corral his attitude and determined, first, to survive. Thriving came later.
In fact, some months after Sam’s accident (and his being fitted with prostheses for both lower legs and lower arms), he determined to participate in the multi-day trail ride into Houston for the city’s huge rodeo. Perhaps it was on this trail ride that he had his first taste of the fun he could have with his “hidden” prostheses.
Sam was well on his way into the city, with crowds lining the highway to watch the procession of chuck wagons, stage coaches, and individuals on horseback. Though an experienced rider often keeps the body’s weight in the stirrups, with the new prostheses rubbing blisters on the stumps of his legs, Sam needed to relax, leaving his weight in the saddle… thus leaving the legs loose.
Without weight in the stirrups, when his mount began a bouncy gait, Sam had no way to control the direction his “feet” pointed. With a gleam in his eye, Sam recounted the story of guiding his horse over to the side and (with his toes pointed to the horse’s rear) asking a woman turn his leg around to the front again.
Seeing the “backwards” limb for the first time, the woman nearly passed-out! Sam? Well, somehow, he managed to get the toe of his boot pointed forward; but he nearly fell out of the saddle because he was laughing so hard!
There is a little bit of “Sam” in all of us: We all see ourselves as lacking in some way… until we realize that such an attitude does not serve us. Oh, sure, our “lack” – our “problem” (whether visible or invisible) – may get us sympathy for a while. Ultimately, though, sympathy cools, and people tire of victim stories.
We learn it’s time to “get on with our lives.” The first step in changing a circumstance ALWAYS begins with changing our attitude toward it. How can this disaster/ problem/ challenge/ limitation be a “blessing in disguise”? How can we look at the situation differently?
Sometimes we forget that we are all simply “making it up as we go along.” Over and over we have been told that “thoughts become things.” So, what thoughts can we shift to create the manifestations we desire?
What we find is that the anguish we suffer is not in the situation at all; rather, it is in the way we have chosen to interpret the situation. Choose different thoughts, and we change our reality.
Through Richard Cory and Sam, we realize it’s our attitudes - not “having it all” – that determines quality of life. Choosing healthy attitudes opens possibility. Refusing to give up, Sam became the father of two great sons … who lived with the example that attitude is everything!
Billie Willmon Jenkin, is a two-time best-selling author and the creator of
The Knock-Kneed Cowboy: A Tale of Being “Just Right”… Just As We Are.
For another inspiring story about overcoming adversity, see http://alanjenkin.com/myblog/2010/05/the-story-of-peng-shuilin/