Mona Germs vs. Navy

January 13, 2009

mona-germs

I had been in the first grade only days when I found out about health hazard that surrounded not only my elementary school but every other elementary school in the country and across the world. It went by different names in different places but the outbreak was total and complete. In many places the plague was called “cooties” but at my school it was called “Mona Germs.”

There was little girl who attended my school named Mona and for some reason it’d been decided that she had germs. This meant every day when you went to school you had to be careful where you stood. The first person Mona touched in the morning was the one who started the day with “Mona Germs.” They would have those germs until they were able to touch someone else and pass off the dreaded disease to someone else.

As bad as it was to have “Mona Germs” during the day, what nobody wanted was to be the one that had to go home “diseased” because they were last touched. Mona reacted the way most would. She became angry and frustrated.

After a year or so Mona moved away and as I grew older I began to realize how I must’ve made this little girl feel. Now I wasn’t the one who came up with the game, but I didn’t stand up to end it either. I simply went along with the rest, spreading “Mona Germs,” never thinking of the ramifications; never thinking of how it would make Mona feel. Disappointed at how I had acted I tried hard to remember to treat people better.

When I was about 11 years old I met a man who is a great example to me of treating people better. His name was Charlie. Charlie and his wife were a younger couple that lived nearby.

I loved Charlie. I used to ride my bike over to his house and laugh and joke with him as he would always have some story to entertain me with. Sometimes he would pick me up and take me to get an ice cream at the local drive-thru. Charlie took a special interest in me and there wasn’t much I wasn’t willing to do in return.

A few months into building this relationship with Charlie he asked me if I would do them a favor. I answered yes before I even knew what he needed. I couldn’t think of something he would ask of me that I wouldn’t be willing to do.

He told me that his daughter from a previous marriage was coming into town and wondered if I’d be willing to show her around. When you’re 11 years old showing someone around town means taking them to the arcade and for a Slurpee at the local 7-Eleven. But this was Charlie and if his daughter was coming to town I would do my best to show her a good time–even if it meant fronting her some quarters to play Asteroids.

He told me when she would be in town and mentioned how grateful he was for my help. Things had been little difficult for his daughter when she was little because of the family dynamic and a great experience in Boise could make a big impact.

I was excited for this opportunity to help and over the next couple of weeks thought of any way I could make Charlies daughter’s experience in my hometown a memorable one. I wanted to see if I could make his daughter feel is good as Charlie had made me feel.

A day or so before she came to town Charlie stopped by to make sure I was still on to help out. I told him I was and that in fact I had been thinking about it since he first brought it up. He turned to me and said, “Great! I know you and Mona will have a great time.”

My heart stopped. As my brain worked to put two and two together I realized that Mona from the first grade and my friend Charlie had the same last name. Mona of “Mona Germs” was Charlie’s daughter. My face flushed beet read. I was so embarrassed of the way I had treated my friend’s daughter.

Luckily, when Mona arrived she had no memory of me. I worked the entire weekend to pay off the horrible things I had said as a first grader. I learned that day of the cost of treating someone poorly. I learned that day that everyone is somebody’s someone.

Conversely, I spent the week directly before I broke my neck at football camp at BYU. In that July of 1986 I had preceded my family to Utah by a week. I was to spend that week at Camp and at its end my family would drive down from Boise, pick me up and we would head to Lake Powell for week of waterskiing.

In the first hours of my football camp I met Roger French. Coach French was over the offensive linemen at BYU and so as an offensive lineman I fell under his direction at Camp. That summer my friends and I had decided to get real live Naval “high and tight” flat top haircuts. I suppose it was a natural extension for him to nickname me “Navy.”

From the first day it was as if he saw something special in me. Although I was only just finished with the ninth grade he regularly placed me against young men much older than I, saying they could prove their toughness by going against “Navy.” He told the group of players there to hustle like “Navy,” and on the second to last day of camp had me go head-to-head with a senior who had already committed to play center at BYU. I went up against him three times. The first two, I found myself placed squarely on my back end. But with Coach French cheering me on, the third try I found a way to bend but not break and push the larger boy back.

On Friday, the last day of camp, Coach French awarded me the Most Improved Player of the entire group. On Saturday, my parents picked me up and took me to Lake Powell. On Sunday, I became paralyzed from the waist down. I would never play football again.

Coach French didn’t know that this was to be my last experience playing football. He had no way of knowing that my week at BYU would be the final memory I ever had of playing the sport I loved so much. But, because of the way he chose to treat me he made that week on the gridiron extra special. Even  just seeing the word Navy reminds me of the feeling I had pushing the larger center out of the way that week in 1986.

As we interact with those around us we get to choose what kind of feeling or lasting impression we will make. Will we spread “Mona Germs” and make others to feel small, angry and frustrated? Or, will we give people that “Navy” experience causing them to believe that they can overcome any obstacle no matter how big.

It is critical that we remember that everyone is somebody’s daughter, someone’s son ,or someone’s friend. We must be careful with our words, for contrary to popular belief they are sticks and stones–sticks and stones that can be used to tear down and destroy or reinforce and shore up.

Jh-

PS I hope to be able to post on Wednesday but am going in for minor surgery on my hand, and so it may be Thursday or Friday before I’m able to post again. Thanks for your continued support.


Buyin’ Slurpees

October 17, 2008
My therapist outside 7-Eleven

My therapist and I outside 7-Eleven

As a result of my auto accident I spent a straight 13 months in the hospital. The first few I was working just to stay alive. After that months were spent overcoming the surgeries that were required to fix my broken body. Once I had been in the hospital for about five months it was time for me to learn to sit up again.  When you lay flat on your back for that long, your lungs begin to settle making it necessary to strengthen your lungs such that they can operate with your body upright. The first day the therapists came in to “teach” me how to sit up, I lasted only a few seconds. Literally the therapists lifted me out of bed, I passed out, and they put me back in bed. That day, I knew that this was going to be a long process.

I didn’t do much better the rest of the week. But slowly, a few seconds turned into a few more and I was able to set up long enough to realize that I was sitting up. With the passing out phase gone, he was onward and upward. 10 seconds turned into 20 which eventually became 30, and before I knew it, I was sitting up for a full minute. That minute turned into five minutes, then 15 and on and on until I could set up for one full hour.

Unfortunately, once I reached an hour I hit a wall. Try as I might, I simply could not sit up for longer than an hour. I went at the problem from every angle I could think of, and every angle the therapists came up with as well.

By this time it was summer and since it was beautiful outdoors and I had spent far too long indoors my therapists would take me outside and let me do my exercises there. The young men that served as therapists at the care center were all about my age and we shared a common interests. So, by this time we had become friends. And after my therapy was over they would take a few minutes and walk up and down a path that was behind the hospital. It was always time I cherished. The path went right along a little river and felt a million miles away from the bed I had spent so much time in.

One day, on one of these walks as my body began to hit that wall telling me that I had almost sat up for an hour, my therapist, Kelly Alvord, told me that at the end of the path there was a 7-Eleven. He said that if I could make it to the end of the path than he would buy me a Slurpee.

By this time in my life I had been eating hospital food for nearly 7 months, and a Slurpee sounded like ambrosia. I don’t know that I can recall a time before or since then the thing ever sounded so good to me. Positive that I could make it to the 7-Eleven and back before my body would give out I excitedly agreed.

We got to the 7-Eleven, I got my cherry Slurpee (large) and we made our way back to the care center. As I sat in my room trying to suck every last molecule of that Slurpee, I looked at the clock. The distraction of the Slurpee had allowed me to sit up for an hour and a half. An hour and a half, half again as long as I had ever been able to sit up before.

Every day one of the therapists from East Lake would take me outside to do my therapy, and then walk me down the path to 7-Eleven. And, every day they would walk a little slower. With my mind on my Slurpee I set up for an hour and a half consistently. That hour and a half turned into two, and then three hours. The barrier was broken. Once my body had the strength to sit up for three hours on a regular basis I could continue on by myself. Their Slurpee trips allowed me to gain the strength to sit up all day long.

I later learned that in order for them to have the time to make my 7-Eleven journey possible they gave up their breaks, and their lunches, and sometimes had to stay later to complete the work they were required to do. This gift of their time changed my life. I say that with absolutely no hyperbole. They literally changed my life.

Every day I wake up and am able to sit up for the entire day is a gift from these therapists. Had they not been willing to spend their time buyin’ Slurpees who’s to say that I still wouldn’t be stuck in bed.

These made a difference in my life because they helped me find purpose. Our Slurpee runs made a difference as they changed my days from sitting up for the sake of sitting up to sitting up to get my Slurpee. This purpose helped me progress.

How then can we follow the example of these good young men. What things can we be a part of that can help give direction to another’s life?  Everyone wants to be about something, and a part of something that matters. When you find those people who  needed distraction from the frustrations in their lives, share some of your purpose with them.

Maybe, you have an assignment at work and could use a helping hand. Maybe, you’re part of a committee in your community that could use another’s help. Maybe, there’s work to be done at your church, or charitable group that someone else might participate in. When you find those people who need a little purpose and involve them, in these ways or others, you will change their lives and are real and meaningful way. With absolute surety and complete confidence I can tell you that there are people you know and interact with on a daily basis who need a little purpose; who need a Slurpee.

As my body needed strengthening, so to might someone’s courage. Like my lungs needed to stay upright, so to might someone’s attitude. In the same way I hit a wall,  someone you know maybe stuck as well. In the end, all it will take to help them find the strength, stay upright, and breakthrough their barriers is a little shared purpose.  As the quote says:

Happy are those whose purpose has found them.

There are countless ways to help others better enjoy their life. By sharing some of the purpose we’ve found in ours we can help in ways we might never have imagined. I know those therapists had little idea that change their purpose would have in my life.

As we walk down the path of life let us never forget the purpose and an influence we can share by buyin’ Slurpees.

Jh-


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