It was one of those glorious Sunday afternoons. The sun taking no time to make known its ability to enforce the dress code of the day, and I was right there along with the rest of the crowd with my hat, sun screen, and umbrella.
I was at a family gathering. Didn’t matter that it was a baseball game. Yes, I am one of those people who doesn’t really care for baseball. I know, I know, it’s America’s favorite pastime. Or, so I’ve heard all of my life. Nevertheless, even though I am a born and bred American, it is not my favorite. Honestly, it would never even appear on any things-to-do list of mine.
Yet, there I was with the gang watching baseball. And, I wasn’t only sitting there passing time until it was over. Nope. I was yelling and whooping. Yes, I had become a fan in a few short moments. Mimicking the guy behind me, I called out such terms as, “Good eye.” (Huh? Good eye?) What happened? My grandson was playing.
Funny how one’s perspective can change with the slightest alteration in circumstances. It happens all the time. We just don’t notice until something unique comes along – such as my grandson being part of a baseball team. Surely changed my perspective on baseball. (I am even planning on traveling three hours each way just to watch him play in another game tomorrow.)
There is another area where my perspective has changed, also. It is the number of invisible fences that the mobility-challenged face every day, every where.
For example, the playoff park where my grandson was playing, on that beautiful, summer day, was designed with thoughtful consideration of handicapped people. The bleachers had sections carved out for wheelchairs; there was an additional restroom large enough for a wheelchair; plenty of handicap parking spaces; and expansive, concrete sidewalks. All this fabulous planning and accommodation helped make my day more enjoyable.
However, challenges still needed to be faced. Even though the bleacher stands sat on a concrete pad, the sidewalk ended 25 feet short of the stands. In between? A sea of rough, uneven gravel. To make matters worse, on one side were the bleacher stands and on the other side were the restrooms, food stand, and parking lot. Having the wheels of an electric wheelchair (550 pounds unoccupied) spin in gravel is akin to a car stuck in the snow. I can’t even imagine how difficult it would be for someone using a walker.
The clincher (it’s a baseball term, right?) came at the end of the game when the team met for the coach’s pep talk (or whatever it is they say at the end of a game). It is that time when praises are given and awards are handed out. Only, the dugout was another sea of gravel away.
So, there we sat, my grandson’s paternal grandfather and I (his maternal grandmother), watching everyone else gather together as we were left behind another invisible fence.
Recently, I was forced into the noisy and congested world typical of American life. Yep. I had to go shopping.
It all started the moment I tried to squirt a little bit more of the most basic of all oil paints, Titanium White, onto my palette. With a PFFTHHPPPPP the remaining paint plopped out. Reaching for my backup tube, I found. . . nothing. Yep. That tube of Titanium White stuck in the back of the rack? It wasn’t white. It was Ultramarine Blue.
What? Impossible! Agghh! Okay, don’t panic. Just get some delivered.
Normally I can accomplish this task with a few clicks and, violá, the deed is done. Not this time.
Having pulled out my handy, lightweight laptop computer, I searched for a site that would deliver some paint within a few days. (Another experience of the typical American life.) However, with a click-click here and a click-click there, I discovered that it would take, drum roll – please, two weeks for the paint to arrive.
Oh, phooey, ptooey. I have to go to the store.
So, off I went to one of those big box stores that sell home goods, craft items, and art supplies. I live at least an hour away from any major city. Yet, I only had to travel 15 miles to buy my oil paint. (Another one of those pretty awesome miracles of the ordinary American life.)
As I rolled into the store, my eye noticed a sign for sale, “Be Original, Not Ordinary.” Huh? What’s wrong with ordinary?
It was one of those mornings, Spring shining through the windows. The promise of warm breezes and light jackets. My favorite way to wake up. Smiling, I lifted myself up. Wait, no. Rather than sitting up, I had remained prone. Okay, I’ll try to push a little harder. Nope. That didn’t work. Time and time again, I tried – and I failed. You’ve heard of frogs turning into princes. Well, I guess I had turned into a turtle on its back.
I happen to be married to one of those sweetheart kind of guys. Knowing that if I quietly called to him, he would wake up and eagerly help me. I guess I could say he loves his turtle. Yet, there was no morning urgency to rise. So, instead of waking him up as I had in similar situations in the past, I decided to let him sleep. This old turtle could wait out the time with prayer. Eventually, he stirred and my prince charming turned me into his princess.
The before Rose – the one who existed before a degenerative neuromuscular disease claimed her body – she would not have been given to wait out any situation. She was always having to do, to go, and to act. There are many disadvantages to living trapped in a body that doesn’t work very well, but there are some advantages, too. This morning’s advantage was to let myself be helpless. Rather than thrashing out against an unmovable force, I chose contentment.
It has not been an easy metamorphosis, and I am not changing from an earthbound, crawling bug into something that can fly in the light. My conversion is taking away freedom of movement, incremental, almost indiscernable pieces of my life – my physical life. In its place, I am finding an upside down turtle. My choices are obvious. Do I pull myself into my shell and hide away? Or, do I lie there vulnerable and patient?
Patience and contentment are choices even when my life is not upside down.
Two weeks ago, I wrote the following: ” Failure is always inevitable for a successful life.”
When I first penned this conviction, I wondered if it would ring true for you. Have you ever felt the same way?
Failure Example #1: When I was about 8 years old, my sisters and I spent the summer at my grandparent’s modest home in Wisconsin. One day, playing at the end of a shallow canal, I noticed crayfish crawling along the muddy bottom. Many times I had watched my older sisters catch these beautiful, rust-colored creatures with their bulging eyes and claws held wide open. On this particular bright, sunny day, I thrust my hand into the cool, still water and made a grab for the largest one. Brave one moment and cowardly the next, I yanked my hand out of the water with a crawfish dangling firmly from the index finger of my left hand. With adrenaline pumping and heart pounding, I shook my hand violently, and the tiny lobster landed on the sandy shore. As it sat there stunned, I seized the empty coffee can next to me and threw it at the terrifying monster. Suddenly, its shell split open and blue blood mixed with yellow slime oozed out. Just as quickly as it had coursed through my veins, my fear transformed into remorse. My pumping heart stopped: I had killed a living creature.
The lesson: Fear is often the catalyst to violence.
Failure Example #2: As a Sophmore in high school, I wrote a science fiction piece for my Creative Writing class. Looking forward to my teacher’s feedback, my jaw dropped open as I read the notation at the top of my paper: “Grade: F. See me after class.”
Waiting for my classmates to slowly filter out of the room, I approached him – paper quivering in my outstretched hand. My brain scrambled to make sense of the words that tumbled out of his mouth. Finally, I heard “plagiarized.” I protested and asked him to tell me what story I had copied.
“I don’t know, but you could have not come up with this story on your own,” he replied with unfounded certainty.
He went on to tell me in great detail his perception of me. I was quiet and did not participate in class. My previous assignments were uninspired. As a result, he decided that I could not have created the story on my own because the paper I submitted was imaginative and beyond anything I could have written. Thus, he concluded because I had plagiarized, I deserved the failing grade.
Hot tears welling up, I left the room and called my mother. She had been in the kitchen when I had written the piece at the table, and she offered to come to school to give witness. Not wanting to bring any further attention to myself, I refused her help. Failing to pursue the matter with the school office left me with no recourse at the end of the school term: that one undeserved, unfair, prejudicial, failing grade impacted my final grade in the class.
The lesson: Perception is often incorrect. People are capable of more than you think.
Failure Example #3: As I grew older, I became concerned about performance – doing a good job, being a good parent, or having a good appearance. Sadly, my focus on performance was not confined to me, but I applied the same strict benchmark of achievement to others. Even though I cared about people and what they were facing, I secretly sat in judgment of the decisions they made. My previous lesson caused me to swing too far in the other direction. I believed that anyone could do anything if they tried hard enough.
During my clinical rotation as a nursing student, I encountered patients that compromised their health with continuing questionable behaviors. One experience was the time I spent caring for a middle-aged man who had a permanent trachea as the result of throat cancer. The first time I met him, we sat in the Family Room at the end of the corridor. As I reviewed his medical history with him, he enjoyed smoking a cigarette via the trachea opening.
When I went home that night and reviewed my day, I found an unsuppressible anger welling up inside me. My young husband had died just six short months earlier from cancer. How could Mr. Patient X continue to smoke? He had throat cancer, and he continues to smoke! Why doesn’t he just quit?
Because it was easy for me to live a disciplined life, I expected everyone to be able to do the same. I lacked compassion for those who had a difficult time making changes when it came to life-choice decisions. When I decided to quit smoking, I quit. No struggle; no backsliding. As I encountered people who tried but failed to quit smoking, I failed to empathize. I even failed to realize that I failed to empathize.
The lesson: Compassion is more important than perfection.
“I have failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”
I know that I will continue to fail for it is the way of life. Often, failures are the main theme of our stories. They are the interlocking threads that make up the fabric of our life. In many ways, our failures serve us better than our successes.
Failures are destabilizing, and the resulting disequilibrium demands attention. Maybe that’s the point: We learn from our failures. They teach us valuable lessons. To fear failure is to fear life.
Welcome failures. They are the stepping stones to your destiny.