Posts Tagged appreciation
“I really don’t want to be here,” a guy told me recently during one of my workouts. I thought about him today, on my sixth consecutive day away from the gym.
Unlike yesterday, I brought my gym bag to work with me today, hopeful that the leg I injured over the weekend had healed to the point where a trip to the gym would help more than it hindered. Instead, common sense prevailed – it’s been doing that more as I age – and I decided to rest the leg another day, so I don’t prolong my recovery.
Ironically, I injured my leg by falling on my way into church on Saturday night. That one stung, but not nearly as bad as the second fall. There is almost always a second – and sometimes even third – fall, as my already weak legs wobble a little more. Fear of the third fall has me walking like a clumsy solider through a minefield, and it’s kept me out of the gym and church.
The gym and church are two places we often grudgingly go or, worse yet, make excuses not to go. I know – I’ve been there. Now, I want to go and can’t. God loves irony.
Most of us are going to experience that irony at one time or another. We’ll long to reconnect with someone we chased out of our life years ago. We’ll wish to recapture moments that passed us as we distracted ourselves with trivial concerns. We’ll ache for abilities and opportunities that age has taken from us.
Devon Walker knows this.
Former Tulane football player Devon Walker’s life suddenly changed in the second game of the 2012 season. An undersized walk-on, he had worked his way into a starting position on the team, and was even a team captain. 2012 was his senior season, and he was eager to take his game to the next level. Unfortunately, he suffered a career-ending spinal cord injury in that game, and has been paralyzed from the neck down since.
Walker was recently awarded the Disney Spirit Award, given to college football’s most inspirational figure. He was a very worthy recipient, because he hasn’t let his circumstances get him down. After a year in grueling rehab, he resumed classes in pursuit of a degree in cell and molecular biology, with designs on attending medical school. Pursuing such a demanding academic program while competing on an athletic team – as a walk-on no less – is impressive enough. That he continues undeterred after such a devastating injury is simply amazing.
While some of his able-bodied classmates grudgingly drag themselves out of bed to attend class, wishing they were elsewhere, Devon struggles through his morning routine for different reasons. Because of his near total paralysis, it takes him more than two hours just to get out of bed and dressed. He needs help to do almost anything physical, even eating and brushing his teeth, yet he attends class. As much as possible, he attends all the practices and activities of the football team too.
I don’t know Devon Walker, but I know that he is human, which means that he is sometimes prone to weakness, like all of us. It’s safe to say that – before his injury – he probably approached some of the more difficult practices in Louisiana’s heat with dread, and he was probably tempted to skip class. Now, ironically, with multiple excuses to do both, he doesn’t.
My leg is healing, and I’ll be back in the gym and in a pew soon. This brief time-out only strengthened my resolve. Is there anything in your life that you complain about, but would truly miss if it were taken from you?
Some of my greatest childhood memories are of the experiences I had trudging through the snow in the woods behind my childhood home. If you saw me now, you would shake your head and think that I was delusional – that I spent too much time in the sun, but it’s true. My body has never been perfect, but it was once a lot better.
As a kid, I rode my bicycle for miles, just to prove I could. I snow skied, water skied and golfed. I delivered newspapers on foot, through all kinds of weather. I climbed trees, rode horses and ran, although I never liked running, even when I could do it.
The doctors told me that my future was grim. That, as my body aged, it was going to be difficult for me to be as active. That I’ll probably need crutches, a cane, even a wheelchair. I shrugged my shoulders and went hunting in the woods behind my house. They didn’t know what they were talking about.
That was a long time ago.
I went snow skiing as a senior in high school. I took the ski lift all the way to the top of Keystone Mountain in Colorado’s Summit County, where a long easy run lay ahead of me. In prior years, I had flown down that run time and again, knowing where to hit my marks to maximize my speed and excitement. That day, however, I crashed in the first 100 yards, struggled to get up and crashed again just a few yards farther. My dad trailed behind, stopping just upslope to make sure I was OK. I shook off the first crash as the consequence of not skiing in the past three years, but he and I knew. It was the first crash of many, and, when I finally reached the bottom of the mountain, I took off the skis for the last time.
I experienced a similar reality about a year later while hunting pheasants in a corn field. Every downed stalk seemed to grab my legs, and my feet found all the holes. It was the last field I ever walked. When I swung a golf club three years ago, I learned that golf too was something that I could no longer do.
Most of us are fortunate enough to sail through most of our lives with nearly all of our physical and mental abilities. Sure, maybe we can’t run a five-minute mile any longer, but that doesn’t keep us from going on a run. Because it we are able to do most everything we want to do, we don’t fully appreciate everything we can do. That’s unfortunate.
When something or someone is taken from you, your world narrows and your attention focuses on only the most important things. It’s why family and friends gather at funerals, and renew relationships. It’s why amputees run marathons and soldiers form life-long friendships with each other. They’ve felt loss and realize it can happen at any time.
In loss, there is life. Loss hurts. It’s supposed to hurt, but we recover, and we recover stronger, because we learn that life goes on, and though it might not be as easy as we want it to be, it’s as beautiful as we make it.
A few weeks ago, some longtime friends invited Lynda and me to join them for dinner in Omaha’s Old Market. The Old Market is an incredibly vibrant and exciting place to have dinner and socialize, but I typically avoid it, especially on the weekends, because it invariably involves an uncomfortable amount of walking for me. That wasn’t the case 20 years ago. With those very friends, I went up and down the streets and through crowded bars, never really letting my handicap get in the way.
That’s not an option any more. Even with Lynda dropping me off before parking the car, I had to walk farther than I wanted and then climb some stairs to get to the restaurant. There wasn’t going to be any bar hopping for me that night or any other night for that matter. I’ve accepted that and choose to focus on the things that I can do, like having dinner with treasured friends from the past.
With a healthy set of legs, the incredible dinner would have been just part of a night that would have involved stops at other clubs and restaurants. I would have enjoyed that night too, but I probably wouldn’t have appreciated just being there as much.
Too many of us assume that life will always be easy, and that allows us to take simple things for granted. It’s easy to skip that evening walk with your wife, but what if you were to lose the opportunity tomorrow or the next week or the next year or the next decade? Will you look at the missed opportunity with regret?
Don’t let something be taken from you before you appreciate it.
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.
As a fan of the Nebraska Husker football team, certain things are expected of me. I’m supposed to be reverent and respectful when discussing Dr. Tom Osborne. I’m supposed to cringe when I hear Oklahoma’s Boomer Sooner music. I’m supposed to have a closet full of red logo wear for game days, and I’m supposed to hate Texas and Notre Dame. I’m good until I get to the hating part.
In fact, I like Texas and Notre Dame. Yeah, I said it and wrote it. Texas and Notre Dame have rich histories, and they both consistently field successful football teams. Even more important, both teams – like every other team in the country – have good kids on their teams – kids who are working hard to get an education so they can succeed. And, I’m supposed to hate them and cheer against them?
When I was younger, I thought that being faithful to my team meant that I had to dislike other teams, so I did. I cherished those rare moments when Oklahoma, Missouri or Colorado lost. Of course, when they lost and my team won, my team rose to the top, but it was more than that; I didn’t want anyone to be as good as my team. I resented their success.
This sort of thinking is evident in sports, but it’s as prevalent, though often more subtle, in other parts of life. We see our friends move into a larger, nicer home than we have, and we’re jealous and suspicious about how they made that happen. We read about a business competitor’s success in the newspaper, and we secretly hope that they’ll receive their comeuppance. Another athlete on our child’s team shows signs of greatness, and we suspect that his coach unfairly favors that kid. We resent success.
Why do we resent success for others? I believe we do so because humans are prone to inferiority, and we often suffer from a lack of appreciation. We are not at peace with ourselves and our accomplishments, and we don’t fully appreciate the lives that we lead. It’s not easy, but recognizing and acknowledging these weaknesses allows us to mitigate the damage they can inflict on our happiness.
Inferiority is particularly crippling, because it’s based on our feelings about ourselves. Until we change the way that we think about ourselves, it will be difficult to admire the success of others, let alone achieve success for ourselves. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Inferiority begins and ends at the individual level.
Our levels of appreciation and inferiority work conversely. As appreciation for our blessings rises, our inferiority diminishes. When appreciation is high, inferiority is low, and we feel free to celebrate the success of others.
During the recent national championship game, I wore a Husker windbreaker as I cheered for Notre Dame. Those who watched the game know that the Irish were dominated from the beginning by the much more talented Alabama team. I felt sorry for the Notre Dame football players, particularly Manti Te’o, Notre Dame’s All-American linebacker who is by all accounts a great person away from the field as well as on it. At the same time, I was happy for the Alabama players who had worked so hard to beat an undefeated team so convincingly. Since I didn’t follow Alabama throughout the year, like I had Notre Dame, I wasn’t as familiar with their players, except for Barrett Jones, who, like Te’o, was as impressive off the field as he was on it. It was hard not to admire his skills and dedication.
In the middle, often away from the camera’s focus, was an epic battle between Jones and Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix. Nix is a talented player in his own right. Many think he would have been a high pick in this year’s NFL draft, but he chose to come back to graduate in his senior season, honoring a commitment he made to his mother.
Instead of cheering against one squad or the other, like much of America was doing, I simply enjoyed watching two talented teams, whose players have exciting futures ahead of them, give everything they had in order to win the game.
Though I am not always successful, I try to apply the same approach to life. Instead of looking suspiciously at the success of others, I try to find something that I can admire and perhaps apply to my own life. I find myself more at peace, more optimistic and more successful this way.
— Mitch Arnold