During my junior year of college, I tore the menisci in my right knee for the second time in two years. I had to wear a bulky knee immobilizer, and had to hobble around on crutches around Michigan State University’s campus (which is not tiny, mind you) for the first couple of days.
During those first few days, I was crutching along to get myself lunch when a man around my dad’s age started walking next to me, limping and holding onto a cane. He turned and laughed and said, “I guess it’s cripples on parade today, huh?”
I laughed and then he inquired to what caused my current predicament. I told him and he responded sympathetically, and started alluding to his own situation. I paused and contemplated if I should ask what happened, afraid it could be taken the wrong way. He seemed open to discussion, however, so I decided to ask.
I’m glad I did.
He turned to me and hit his legs with a cane, revealing the hollow sound that a pair of prosthetic legs makes. He then went on to tell me that he had been struck by a car on the side of a nearby freeway while trying to help his daughter, whose car had broken down, and lost his legs in the process.
I was speechless.
At first, I felt guilty for asking; why remind him of what completely altered his life for the worst? Guilt was soon accompanied by a lamentation for the man he probably used to be. How could someone not lose part of who they are, when they lose something so vital as their legs?
I looked at him to show my sympathy, but he did not seem fazed by his condition. Rather, he was grinning and laughing about it, telling me how it was unfortunate because he wished had been able to put that fateful August 3rd in his planner, so at least he could have been a little more prepared.
I studied him closely, searching for a sign of bitterness; there was no way someone could be this nonchalant, absolutely none. My hunt turned up empty, however, as there wasn’t a wrinkle of despair on this main’s face. There were only laugh lines — scars from an optimistic outlook of pain.
I then told him he was very admirable for being so brave. He smiled and said, “Well, of course it was hard at first because we are never more aware of ourselves than when we are in pain; it is the ultimate awareness and so it is human to initially pity ourselves with that awareness. I realized I had two choices: spend my life bitter or accept it. I don’t want to spend my life bitter, so I won’t.” We continued along a bit more together, wished each other luck, and parted ways.
I’ve never been one to believe in fate and I’m not sure I’m fully convinced yet, but something tells me I was meant to meet that man. It feels too profound to be merely a coincidence. Here is a man, who has all the tools for bitterness, but chooses to dismiss them and keep with the means of optimism he was born with. Because, truthfully, even though I only spent five minutes with this stranger, I have a feeling he was this guy even before he lost his legs. He hadn’t allowed his accident to change his demeanor, and neither should anyone else. Even though you’re, as Brene Brown so eloquently put it, “wired for struggle,” you’re also designed to be resilient; you’re a human being and it’s part of the description.
When you do find yourself prevailing and coming back from hardships, make sure to file away those pieces of evidence into the back of your mind, and be sure to share them whenever you can. Remind others of the strength that flows through them, just as the power you exhibited in those moments; we have a tendency to forget what we’re capable of, after all. Never be afraid to share your story.
No matter what your struggle may be, know that you’re the leading commander of your battle. You can’t control where it happens or when, but you can control your reaction. And you’re always more equipped than you think.