A Little Inspiration From Hawkeye Pierce

October 10, 2008

I think I have been a fan of M*A*S*H* as long as I’m been a fan of television. Which for me, has been a long time. I’ve never really been a huge fan of the movie, but I can nearly recite every episode of the television series from memory. (This is what happens when you spend literally years of your life in the hospital.)

I have to say that of all the characters from Radar, Klinger, Trapper, and both of the Colonels, Hawkeye was always my favorite. Of all the witty things Alan Alda’s character ever said the quote that I remember the most goes as follows:

“I am continually amazed at the total frailty of the human body, and the incredible resiliency of the human spirit.”

As we go into this weekend let us all, like Hawkeye, remember that although it is true that no matter how much effort we put into strengthening our bodies they can and will be broken, if we strengthen our inner spirit he truly can be indomitable.


Bulls or Bears?

October 9, 2008

As the economy continually swings back and forth we often hear about bulls and bears. A bullish market is one on the rise, a market that is doing well. A bearish market on the other hand is one in decline and filled with concern. As I watch the evening news and hear these terms they not only remind me of the market but they remind me of the choice I get every day of my life.

Each year as the new year approaches my father asks us how we feel about our opportunities for the coming 12 months. He’s big on goal setting and so New Year’s resolutions are right up his alley. Regardless of what your answer is, he’ll always tell you how optimistic he is about the new year. “I’m bullish about 2009,” he’ll say. No matter the year, he’s always bullish about the time ahead.

He is the ultimate optimist. He sees the good in every situation, and the potential in every person. Not once in my entire life have I ever gone to my father with an idea that he is told me it is impossible to accomplish. If he were placed in the middle of the largest ocean with only a 2 x 4 and a toothpick, he’d hop aboard the 2 x 4 and row for shore.

In my life I want to be the same; and it’s something I work on every day. I am quite sure that that is the only way to be that kind of a consistent optimist. It’s easy to be “bullish” on the good days and “bearish” on the bad. But keeping a positive mindset and optimistic outlook through the good and the bad takes real work.

In New York City, near Wall Street, there is a bronze statue called the “Charging Bull.”  After the stock market crash of 1987, Arturo Di Modica spent over $360,000 of his own money to create the statue. Of his own accord, as a Christmas gift to the people of America he placed the statue in front of the stock exchange as a symbol of the, “strength and power of the American people.” The police seized the sculpture, but eventually the Department of Parks and recreation installed it on their own a few blocks away.

When you look at the bull today, you’ll notice that its nose is lighter than the rest of its body. This tarnishing is a direct result of all the brokers who touched the Bulls nose on their way into the market. They touch the statue hoping for a bullish day.

What if we did the same? What if every day we entered our lives we took a moment to remind ourselves to have a bullish life? All sorts of things to be our “Charging Bull.” Maybe a positive quote placed somewhere that we will see a multiple times a day, maybe a saying that we can repeat ourselves at the beginning of each day. Maybe, we find a little trinket in the form of a bull.

What our “Charging Bull” is doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we find some way to remind ourselves to play the optimist instead of the pessimist. If we will, no matter how deep the ocean we find ourselves stranded in, and no matter what tools we have to work with, every day we will row for shore.


Removing The Strap

October 8, 2008

After breaking my neck, of all the countless things I had to learn to do again keeping my balance was far and away one of the most difficult. From the moment I was off the respirator and healthy enough to be out of the bed my therapists worked every day to help me regain my balance. This may not seem like a difficult thing to acquire, but without the assistance of your abdominal muscles to keep you upright, or the help of the muscles around your trunk to keep you steady, it took hours and hours of work.

From the very first day I was in a wheelchair I had a Velcro strap around my chest to keep me from falling on the ground–and least that’s the idea. At first, I leaned on my strap all the time. But after a while, I only used it from time to time. By the time I left the hospital, I had gotten to the point where I was fairly secure in my balance. Still, the ground looked fairly ominous and wanting to keep my face as far as I could from the concrete, I kept the strap.

Months later, after I had been home for some time, my mom was in my room helping me get ready for church. It felt like just a regular Sunday like any other Sunday. Little did I know that this particular Sunday would be one I would never forget.

Everything was going normal, my mom helped me put on my pants, sat me in my chair, buttoned up my white shirt, tied my tie, and slid my sport coat on. Then, acting as though it was something we did every day, she removed my strap. I proceeded to inform her that that wasn’t going to work. I tried to explain that I needed to strap and that without it I would fall out of my chair, and although some might find it entertaining to watch, the idea horrified me.

She then told me that while we were in the hospital one of the therapists told her that she felt that I could get to the point where I would no longer need the strap to keep my balance. My mom then informed me that I had in fact reach that point (whether I knew it or not.) She told me she believed in me and was sure that I’d be just fine.

I on the other hand was positive that she was wrong. But, the strap was gone and it was obvious that I was going to church sans strap unless I could convince one of my brothers or sister to disobey my mother’s edict, and I was pretty sure that that wasn’t going to happen.

I was furious. How could she do this to me. “Did she want me to fall?” I wondered. But, angry or not, I was loaded in the car and we headed to church. Glaring at my mom during the entire meeting I concentrated on sitting up. As I worked to keep myself upright I silently waited for the moment when my efforts would fail and I would fall. Then, I could prove to my mother that I was right and she was wrong.

However, contrary to my belief I made it through the meetings sitting up the whole time. Now, I was really scared. This was a big problem. For, if I made it home without incident, I would never see my strap again.

As the meeting ended and my mother pushed me out the chapel doors. Heading to the van I knew that it was now or never. I saw a crack in the sidewalk and knew that this was my chance. My front wheels hit the crack and as the chair jostled just a bit, I threw myself out of my chair. My upper body slammed against the concrete pinning my legs underneath my torso. My mother came from behind my chair to help me get off the ground and as she did I repeatedly cried, “See, I was right. I told you I need my strap.”

Once I was safely back in my chair, my mom looked me in the eye, smiled, and said, “You may fall a few times but eventually you’ll get it figured out.” Fuming, I understood that my strap was gone, and that all falling out of my chair was going to get me was a concussion.

In the end, my mother was right. I sit up today in my wheelchair without a cumbersome strap because my mom saw my true potential, and was willing to do whatever it took so that I could see it as well. In my life today I work hard to see past the “straps” in my life that limit my ability to see all that I can become. I try every day to look at my life through the eyes of my loving mother that I might see all that I can be.

Now that I am older, I can only imagine how difficult it was for her to remove my strap and see me fall. It would have been so easy for her to just give me my strap. Had she done so however, I would have been safe in the knowledge that I would never fall, yet always wondering what more I could have been.

Each of us have straps that we allow to stay in our lives and keep us from reaching our full potential. We have to take heart from my mother’s courage and remove the straps that keep us down so that we can find our own balance. Odds are good that we will fall. But those scrapes will heal and in the quest to unlock “The Champion Inside,” our lives will become full of opportunity as we realize and utilize all that we are and all that we can be.

All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel Mother. — Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)


Wake-Up Call

October 6, 2008

In my work, I am required to do a lot of travel. I must say it sounds a lot “sexier” than it is. Mostly, it’s arriving late the night before an event and departing late the day after, and usually little more than airport-hotel-airport.

On one such arrival, after I had gone through the process of checking in, I was so tired I was aching for bed.  The hotel was a small hotel, and it was obvious that the gentleman at the front desk did everything from check-in to setting out the morning bagels, so I decided to ask for my wake-up call right there.

He agreed to my request, and as he began to get my information, he remarked how the hotel doesn’t get as many wake-up calls as they used to, and that people seem to prefer the alarm on their cell phone instead. As I thought about it, the same seemed true in my own experience. All the people I traveled with from my wife to my siblings to my aides preferred using the alarm on their mobile phone. I looked back at the attendant, who was quietly waiting seeming to hope that this information had caused me to change my mind and lighten his workload.  I told him that his information was interesting and, although he was probably right, I still wanted my wake-up call.

I like wake-up calls. They are my security blanket. I too use my cell phone’s alarm, but I always set a wake-up call to go off about 10 minutes after my alarm, just in case. That way, I can go to sleep knowing that I won’t wake up late due to some mistake I made or phone failure. Wake-up calls help me make sure I don’t sleep through the important things I can’t afford to miss. When I think the wake-up calls, I can’t help but remember a Saturday morning when one changed my life.

On this particular Saturday morning, I’ve been asked to speak to a group of children about how we are all different, and whether we have red hair or we don’t, are in a wheelchair or we aren’t, everyone is “O.K.”  As I got ready early that morning for the event it was obvious that it was going to be one of “those” days when everything seems to turn out far from “O.K.”

I failed at nearly everything I tried to do that morning, and the things I didn’t fail at still turned out badly.  My pants were all askew, I’d gotten toothpaste on my tie, breakfast turned out lousy, and on my way to the event I realized I had left the directions on my kitchen table. It was most assuredly a day where it didn’t feel like it was okay to be in a wheelchair, when it definitely did not feel okay to be “different”, and the last thing I wanted to was to go try and convince an hundred kids that it was.

But it was too late to cancel so I went. I remember thinking this was the last thing I needed that morning and hoped that I could just get in, get out, and move on.

Upon arrival, I introduced myself to the woman who had scheduled me for the event.   She proceeded to tell me they had brought three other individuals with disabilities to speak as well, so, instead of speaking to all kids at once, they were going to divide the children into four groups and rotate them through.

“Great,” I thought, “now I don’t just have to talk about how I have a great life in a wheelchair once, I’d have to do it four times.” This just quadrupled the amount of time I was going to have to be there that morning.

The meeting began with all of us in the same room. The children were given instructions and just before they were set loose, the woman in charge of the event had all of the children sing, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” reminding everyone there about what a wonderful thing the body was. I wasn’t sure I agreed, but I knew the song and so I sang with everyone else.

As I began to sing, out of the corner of my eye I noticed one of the other speakers with a disability. He too was in a wheelchair, and from the way he sat in his chair, it seemed our disabilities were very similar. But what wasn’t similar, was the way he was throwing his arms all about. For the life of me, I could not figure out why a grown man would move around in such a way in public during the song. I remember thinking that he looked like he was conducting the music. The only problem was, he wasn’t facing the children, and that was definitely different.

Just as the next sarcastic remark began to form in my mind it hit me. He was deaf. Like me, he couldn’t move his hands and so he had had to come up with his own sign language. That was why his arms were moving about so. And what’s more, he was doing it all with a smile on his face.

Talk about a wake-up call. All of a sudden all those things that frustrated me so much that morning didn’t seem so big. In fact, they seemed quite small-petty even. He had so much less than I and yet his attitude was so much better. I never even spoke to the man and yet he taught me a lesson that I will never forget, and because of my poor attitude I nearly missed it. It is easy to get lulled to sleep in our lives, and if we stay that way we will miss the many lessons those great people around us have to teach.

We have to wake up and listen to the lives of those around us and let them teach us to be better the way this man taught me. Then, fully awake and fully aware each day a new person will teach us a new way to live happier. If we will look, we can find examples in books, on television, in our neighborhoods, and on our streets. And if we will see, we will learn to live with more gratitude and grace instead of complacency and complaint.

We need wake-up calls. They help us make sure we don’t sleep through the important things we can’t afford to miss.


“Take a Knee”

October 3, 2008

Some of the happiest memories of my youth come in some way or another from football.  It didn’t matter if I was watching it on television, playing it at recess, or throwing the ball around with my brother Clint, I loved the game. You can imagine then how excited I was when I finally was old enough to play competitively.

I ate it up, all of it. The “two a days” when you worked so hard you are sure you had nothing left to give, game day, the thrilling victories and the agonizing defeats. To this day, crisp autumn Saturday mornings that have just a tinge of winters bite in them bring a smile to my face and remind me of the sport I love so much.

As I remember those practices I recall that regardless of the team I played for, whenever a time came that the coach wanted to talk to the team, he would ask everyone to gather around him and, “Take a knee.”

“Taking a knee” meant many different things. Sometimes, it meant a little encouragement, sometimes more information. The coach might have some advice or instruction to share with the team, or maybe he wanted to make it clear that we weren’t doing things as well as we should be and changes needed to be made.  No matter what the coach had to say, “taking a knee” meant that it was time to take a break from  whatever we were doing and listen carefully.  For, when we did the work was easier and the games more fun.

On July 13, 1986  at about one in the afternoon, I broke my neck. Less than four hours later I was lying in an emergency room in Grand Junction, Colorado and had a doctor tell me something that I will never forget. He came next to my bed, looked me in the eye and said, “Jason, you’ve broken your neck and you will never walk again.”

Some may say that my worst fears were realized, but this little nugget of information was so far out in left field that I had never even considered it let alone feared it. There I was,15 years old trying to digest what he’d said. My game began to look pretty bleak.

Needing coaching then more than I ever had before, I followed my football training and “took a knee.” I went to my God, the best coach I have ever had, hoping for some encouragement or instruction. True to form, on my spiritual knees, I received everything I needed to make it through that harrowing day.

No matter the day, good or bad, easy or hard, things always go better when I “take a knee.” I believe the same is true for everyone. No matter what God you believe in, or how you choose to worship, our lives will be better when we take a break from whatever were doing and listen carefully.

So, when the winds blow and the waters rise, when the darkness comes and you yearn for the light, when the adversities of life conspire to chase hope from your heart, take a moment and “take a knee.” It won’t rid your life of difficulty, but it will make the work easier and the game of life more fun. I know that it has mine.



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