My 20-year high school reunion is this summer and the planning for it has already begun. I know that there will be many people there who have multiple children and many of those children will even be teenagers. I can’t help but think about how this class reunion will be different for me than our last one; for this time around we will be among the “parents” of the group. After 16 years of marriage and many obstacles along the way, Kolette and I finally have our first child, Coleman Jason Hall. (Click here for the story of how Cole came into our lives and click here for the day to day tales of my life as a quadriplegic father.)
But all this talk of class reunions lately has reminded me of an experience I had just following my high school graduation, almost 20 years ago.
My first semester at college was particularly difficult. When I broke my neck at 15 my needs changed. I could no longer dress or shower myself and from the time of my diving accident to the time I left for college my family had always helped me take care of those needs. Now, leaving for school I was going to have to allow my roommate and my cousin’s husband to do my care.
I knew my roommate, but he had moved away from Boise during my sophomore year and it had been some time since I had interacted with him on a regular basis. My cousin’s husband I had never met before. This unfamiliarity made me nervous and scared.
First, their help required them to assist me with needs that were fairly sensitive and private. Although most freshmen in college are used to the “group shower” idea, being showered by someone else is a completely different matter altogether. In addition, I was concerned that if I had an argument with either of these aides that the repercussions might be severe. For instance, I wondered if a disagreement between my roommate and I would lead to me spending the night in my chair instead of my bed.
This fear led the homesickness and the homesickness led to a long semester my first semester at Brigham Young University (BYU). I went home every chance I could get. In my first semester I drove home eight times–six hours each way. I used any opportunity I could find to make the trip back home.
I went home for family birthdays, high school Homecoming and Thanksgiving. Heck, I went home for Veterans Day, Arbor Day… in fact any day. From the first of September to the middle of December I found eight weekends with a good enough excuse to return home.
During the semester when I couldn’t return home, and my sadness and discouragement became more than I could bear I would take my chair to a place at the foot of the mountains less than a quarter mile from my apartment. It was a beautiful spot filled with serenity and peace. I found that no matter how down I was on my journey to this spot the discouragement was gone when I returned.
On one such return home, after my spirits were successfully lifted, I found my chair surrounded with a gaggle of children who also lived in my apartment complex. When you’re in a wheelchair this is not an uncommon occurrence. Little kids always curious to know about the chair and have not yet been programmed to be afraid to ask questions. So, as usual the questions began. “Why do you use that?” “How far can you go?” “Can you do a wheelie?” I tried to answer the barrage of questions as quickly as they came.
As the group was asking me any question they could think of, I noticed one little Polynesian boy set apart from the crowd. He didn’t ask one question. He just kept circling me paying particular attention to the sides of my head. I’m not sure I noticed in the first couple of times he circled me, but as he continued to walk around my chair it became difficult to miss.
Finally, he stopped his orbit, stood directly in front of me and as loud as he could, he said, “Hey, you got big ears; like a monkey.”
If my journey that day to my peaceful, serene place had lifted my spirits at all, his comment caused them to again be deflated. Wondering who would say such a thing, I asked him his name.
He replied, “Hickey.”
I remember thinking that between my ears and his name, we were both in trouble.
Returning home I reflected further on the experience I just had. This little, innocent boy, knowing nothing about my situation (or frankly the effect of his words), had changed my day, and not for the better. I began to wonder how often I, who better understood the effects words could have, did the same thing; how many times had people’s days been different because of my influence.
Each day, each of us has countless opportunities to influence others for good or for ill. We each must decide whether the words and actions we use are meant to lift or to destroy. For, each day we find people who need to be lifted. We simply have to decide if we’re willing to do that kind of heavy lifting.
Over two thousand years ago, the most gifted of teachers from Galilee taught us of this responsibility in the parable of The Good Samaritan. In this teaching tale we find a man half dead on the side of the road. As he lays there bloodied and beaten, three men pass by.
The first two do so without a second thought. One a priest and the other a Levite, both important men of the day, seem to just not have the time or energy for the wounded man. The third man from Samaria, who many believed to be less than average, stops to bind up the man’s wounds.
In our everyday lives we, like these three men, pass by people laying half dead on the side of the road. They may not be physically injured, but they do require spiritual and emotional assistance.
We have to choose which tack to take. Will we follow Hickey’s example whose actions, although he was too young to understand them, made me feel self-conscious and less sure of myself. Or, will we follow the Samaritan and use our words and actions to help and lift up. Will we live in ignorance of the people depressed and down, or will we watch for those who need their spirits bound.
When we actively choose to do good in the lives of others a miracle happens. As we encounter those who feel frustrated, alone and downhearted, we will see our positive interaction have an actual physical effect. These people, who need a positive lift walk through the hallways of our offices and down our streets with their heads down and their backs slouched. After our kind words and a simple deeds, we will see their lives benefit from our actions and watch in wonder as they walk away with their hearts lifted, backs straightened and heads held high.
Then, the real magic happens. As we were walk away from the experience we will find our own hearts happier, our own heads held higher, with a joy in our souls that wasn’t there before. For the work we put in to change the lives of others will, in the end, most powerfully change our own. The greatest gift we can ever give, to others and to ourselves, is the gift of service and love.
In all my years of challenge and adversity I have learned that there is nothing you can do two more powerfully lift your own spirit than to lift the spirit of another. Miracles happen during the heavy lifting.
Want more inspiration from Jason?
Join Jason and his wife, Kolette, in their online workshop “A Life Well-Crafted” offered through Big Picture Scrapbooking. You’ll receive motivational messages for everyday living in the Audio Version as well as the opportunity to choose the Full Version of the workshop complete with project ideas to enhance your life. Click here for more information and to register for the workshop. It’s not too late to join us!