It’s not our highest, but at our lowest point that we find the true and purposeful meaning in life—for it is from this vantage point that we are able to look up, and, find the vastness through which we can transform ourselves—and those that we touch. It is through this humble prospective that we are able to reach our highest potential and reason for being —
After reading the above statement, you may be saying to yourself, yes, that’s a nice sentiment, but you don’t know me or the life that I live each day—and you would be correct; I don’t know you, or your life circumstances, but I do know that if you are reading this blog, there is a greater purpose for either you—someone you know, or someone you will meet.
It’s all about prospective, right?
As many motivational speakers, theologians, and inspirational writers will tell you, “You may not be able to change your circumstances—but you can change how you react to them.”
This statement became a reality to me recently when I had the opportunity, and honor, to meet three very selfless and courageous young individuals—each are from different walks of life, but all share the same prospective—every moment in life matters—so, make it count.
I am a volunteer with Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta, and in all my years of volunteer work there, on any given day, I find countless stories of individuals who are fighting the pain and limitations of paralysis, in an effort, to lead meaningful and productive lives. On most occasions, my visits entail delivering mail to the patients and sitting with those who would just like to talk. But on this particular day—it wouldn’t be routine. Although, the events you will read are true, I’ve changed the names of the individuals to protect their privacy.
Sarah—Future Olympic Diver
My first visit was with Sarah. Sarah is 10-years-old, and was in training for the U.S. Olympic diving team. On the day of her accident, she was going though her most accomplished dive, but as she jumped, she notice that her fellow teammate had not cleared the path of her mark. To avoid injuring her, she veered to the left, which caused her to hit the sidewall of the pool and she injured her spinal cord.
When I brought in her mail, her parents and several of her relatives informed me that it was the third mail delivery for Sarah that day. Each letter had the word HERO written on them. After, hearing of Sarah’s selfless sacrifice, I asked her why she would take such a risk? Her reply was simply, “My teammates’ safety was all I cared about, and I knew I was a stronger swimmer than she was.” I then asked her parents about her prognosis and they informed me that it was promising. “Sarah has already begun to regain some of the feeling in her toes,” they said. “So it is a good sign she will at least regain partial recovery of feeling in her legs.”
Before leaving, Sarah thanked me for stopping by and encouraged me not to feel sorry or worry about her, because, “I will be fine,” she said. “The most important thing is that my friend and teammate is still alive.”
Jeremy is a 14-year-old, with a 1000-watt smile. He asked the nurse that was escorting him to physical therapy if he could stop and speak with me for a moment. He went on to tell me the reason he is a patient at Shepherd Spinal Center.
He shared with me that as he and a friend were returning from school two-weeks earlier, he was hit in the back by a stray bullet, meant for someone else, as he was walking by the shooter in a car. “I’m telling you my story because I saw you come out of Sarah’s room,” Jeremy said. “We all consider her a hero, and I just wanted you to know that, it doesn’t matter whether you know the person or not—all that matters is that they are still alive. You see, I didn’t know the guy the bullet was meant for, but he is alive today because of me—so in a way, I guess that makes me a hero too, right?” I quickly respond, “Yes, absolutely!” The nurse then signaled it was time to go, so I thanked him for sharing his story as I hugged him goodbye.
I had only to walk a little further before entering the room of my final mail delivery. Sam is 20, and has worked for his father’s landscaping business since he was 13. As I entered his room, he had the covers pulled up over his face to keep himself warm. This was Sam’s fourth visit in less than a year—due to a re-occurring infection. His room is kept at a low temperature to help with his recovery.
Not wanting to bother Sam—because I thought he was sleeping, I placed his mail besides his bed. He then, pulled his blankets down far enough to see who was in his room. I introduced myself and informed him that I was a volunteer. He smiled and asked if I would stay and take him outside into the sunshine to talk. I asked if that was permitted. “Yes, the nurses usually take me, but they are really busy today,” Sam said. “It really makes me feel better being outside.” I gladly agreed, and he called the nurse for permission.
Due to where he sustained his injury and his current infection, Sam was not able to leave his bed, so, I rolled him to a shaded area just outside his room. After securing his bed with the assistance of a nurse—making sure Sam was confortable, he asked if any of the nurses shared with me how his paralysis occurred. I said “no”. He then began by telling me that he had been in and out of Shepherd Spinal Center for over two years—due to the complexity of his injuries and re-occurring infections.
He then went into the details of how he sustained his spinal cord injury. Sam said, late one night when he and three of his friends were coming home from another friend’s house, the friend who was driving fell asleep at the wheel. Sam was the only one who had not been drinking—and he was the only one who was injured.
“I’m glad it happen to me and not my friend who was driving, because he couldn’t have handled being paralyzed for the rest of his life,” Sam said with tears glistening from his crystal blue eyes. “He’s not a bad guy and I’ve forgiven him.” He said, for weeks after the accident occurred his friends came by often for visits but, since then—all have now, gone on with their lives. “I think it makes them too sad to see me like this, and they feel guilty that all this happen to me,” Sam said. “I can understand that, so I don’t hold any grudges. I would probably be the same way, I guess.”
Our conversation lasted until almost sundown that day. Sam said, his hopes are to one-day return to landscaping work with his dad. “At least I can still drive a riding lawnmower,” Sam said with a quivering smile.
After returning to his room, Sam thanked me for spending the afternoon with him and bringing him out into the sunshine. I replied, “It is me, who should be thanking you, because—believe me, I’ve received more from this visit than you.” To which Sam responded, “Please don’t feel bad for me—I am still alive, and I can still do all the things that truly count in life. I will be okay, so don’t worry about me.”
On an ordinary day, I met three extraordinary selfless and humble individuals, who chose to look not at what they lost—but what had been gained by saving the life of another.
For Sarah, Jeremy and Sam—humility is not acknowledging the cost of the gift—but being thankful they were able to give it.
It is their true heroic examples, that define the meaning of self-sacrifice. Although painful—such down periods can be used as points in our life for greater growth—that strengthens the core character of integrity within us — when we use them to propel us higher on the trajectory of our lives. Because what we do today—not only affects the present, but the past, and future as well.
Photography by Ivy Rutzky