The weight room at my gym is where I do a lot of thinking. For an hour, four or five times per week, it’s just me. my thoughts and my body. I experience the highs and confidence of pushing more than 300 pounds with my arms, and the lows of struggling with even the smallest of weights in my leg workout. When I work my upper body, I think, “What if?” When I work my lower body, I think, “What’s next?”
Toward the end of one of my workouts the other day, as I was gazing out the window between sets, I saw one of the trainers returning from a run on the trail beside the Papio Creek. For a moment, I let my mind stray into the dangerous territory of “I wish I could.”
We all wish WE COULD something. We wish that we could have more money – that we could be taller, not as fat, not as bald – that we could have a better job, more friends, fewer worries. Heck, I wish I could stay awake through a movie with my wife, and she wishes I could get along with her mother. Some things are just not going to happen.
In this way, my physical disability has been a gift. I understand that certain capabilities are beyond my reach, and this awareness has allowed me to see more clearly the blessings that I do have.
Instead of lamenting the fact that I can’t play basketball at the gym, I’m happy that I’m healthy enough to exercise and build muscle. Rather than being bitter about needing to turn down tickets for a Nebraska football game, I’m fulfilled that I’ve found the skills to build a reasonably successful business.
Few of us spend much time thinking about everything that we can do, while we spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about the things beyond our reach. Doing this robs us of the joy of the moment and impedes our progress toward our goals. This is a lesson I constantly review when I go hunting.
Hunting is my passion, and it’s one that challenges my will to focus on my strengths rather than my limitations, because it’s a pursuit best undertaken by not only able-bodied individuals, but individuals in fairly athletic shape. This is because the highest number and best trophy animals are often in the most remote and unforgiving terrain – terrain that is almost always beyond my reach.
Many times, I can see where I want to go, and I can sometimes even see the game I’m pursuing, yet, my legs can’t get me there. November 2010 was a good example of that. I was out in Nebraska’s Sandhills, trying to fill the spot on my wall for a trophy whitetail deer.
The whitetail is one of the most challenging North American trophies, because the mature, large bucks became large and mature by associating humans with danger and avoiding them at all costs. The best way to get close to them is to quietly sneak into their territory, leaving as little scent as possible. Most people park a mile or two from where they are going to be hunting, and then walk in.
I’m not most people. This year, like every year, I had to have someone drive me to the blind where I was to sit for the remainder of the day. My guide Aric then drove back out, and returned on foot a short time later to sit with me, probably scaring every deer within a mile. Because of the commotion we made, it was no surprise that we didn’t see anything all morning, and we decided to take a mid-day break.
Shortly after Aric left to get the truck, he came running back to the blind. He had seen the big deer that we knew was out there. In fact, my trophy stood and stared at him from 50 yards. It would have been an easy shot, extremely rare for a trophy buck, and if I had been with Aric, my trophy would have been in the back of the truck.
Instead, Aric and I sat there until nightfall, and for several more days. We saw the trophy deer a mile or so away a couple of times, but we could never get him to come close enough to us for a shot.
I could have left the Sandhills angry and frustrated, because I felt both of those emotions over the long days in the blind, but being angry and frustrated is counter-productive, especially when you are trying to enjoy your passion. Instead, I felt thankful for the excitement I felt knowing that this deer was close and might appear at any moment. I had also enjoyed watching many more deer and clearing my mind from mental clutter, as I had nothing to entertain me but some of nature’s best beauty.
I think that all of us have those deer blind moments when we can’t seem to get what we want and it seems to come so easily for everyone else. We look enviously through our windshields at the Mercedes, oblivious to the freedom that our own transportation provides. We’re jealous when we learn that our friends earn more money than we do, instead of reassured knowing that we have relationships with achievers. We see a trainer returning from a run on a sunny day, and we feel helpless that we will never feel that exhiliration.
That’s the wrong way to live. It robs us of happiness and closes our minds to hope and possibilities.
Each one of us has capabilities that someone else wishes they had, even if it is as simple and basic as our health.
I was reminded of that one morning, years ago, as I made my way to an early morning class at the University of Nebraska-Kearney. I was having one of those mornings where everything seemed to go wrong. A series of drops and spills had made me a few minutes late, though I awoke at the right time. My tardiness cost me a shot at the close parking spaces near my classroom building, so I had to park a few blocks away and hike in.
By the time I reached my building, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. It was then that I met a young man in a wheelchair.
“Hey, I hope you don’t mind me asking,” he began, and before I could respond, he asked, “Were you ever in a chair?”
Being in a chair is one of my biggest fears, one of my largest motivators for time in the gym and a likely future according to some in the medical field. For those reasons, I resist even thinking about the possibility. I stammered my answer. “Umm . . . no.” Then, quickly, almost defensively, I followed up, “Why?”
“I’ve noticed you and thought that maybe, since your upper body appears so strong, that maybe you spent some time in a chair, but trained your way out,” he said and looked away.
It became quickly obvious to me that he watched me limp around and saw hope. While he was watching me and hoping the same for himself, I fought self-pity. We were unaware of each other’s struggles.
If I could borrow a healthy set of legs for a day, I’d return them sore and tired. I’d find something to hunt, and then pursue it through the thickest, nastiest terrain. I’d walk through the Old Market and over the pedestrian bridge. I’d play a game of basketball with my son in the driveway.
But, none of that is going to happen. And I’m OK with that. Because life is too short and too precious to waste time sulking, I’ll enjoy the life that I can live within the restraints that cannot be changed, and I hope the same for you.