With the number of people I meet on a weekly basis, it always takes me aback whenever someone persists in my mind long after the interaction ends. Have you ever met someone that instantly changes your world view? Recently, I was blessed by such an encounter when my in-laws were visiting for the holidays.
My mother and father-in-law are amazing because they welcome everyone into their lives. It’s a great example for my kids, and keep me on my toes (as well as my mind open). On this visit, I got to meet Robert as he rolled through my front door.
Robert is a man in his early 70s, and he has cerebral palsy.
When he was born, the lack of medical technology kept a lot of parents in the dark. As Robert changed from a baby to a toddler, his parents noticed their boy was different. He didn’t speak and move like others his age, and doctors said he was most likely mentally retarded. He was not taught like normal kids in school, and frequently he heard adults around him say he would never really amount to much.
I can’t imagine what must have gone on in his head at the time, but he said it was then he decided, “I’ll show them.”
My father-in-law started at the same college Robert attended. He was a few years behind him in age, so the “disabled” student was well established in collegiate life by then. His story of Robert in college is astounding.
“Every girl on campus loved Robert. They fought over who would get to push him to their next class.”
Because he can’t physically take the same load as usual college students, it took him a bit longer to finish his degree than most. Once he finished at Abilene Christian University, he wanted to take a mission trip with some others to Portugal. Once he got funding (which is a story in and of itself), off he went. Most of his traveling companions went off in other directions, so very quickly Robert found himself all alone in a foreign country where he didn’t know the language.
“I went to a restaurant and pointed at an item on the menu,” he said. After sitting there looking at my food for a while, a waiter came over and offered to feed me once the rush ended.”
What made his visit enjoyable is the same thing that makes meeting him today so awesome. His enthusiasm and laugh are infectious. You can’t help but laugh along with him, even if you didn’t catch every word he says. Eventually, he met his future wife in Portugal and learned the language.
Today, Robert and his wife are retired and living in Dallas to be near grandchildren. They spend so many days at a local prison volunteering, they simply joined the church inside the unit. As I am sitting over breakfast hearing all of his story, I’m smiling and nodding my head. It’s a great story. Then he that one thing I can’t get out of my head.
“It’s fun being handicapped.”
As a type 1 diabetic, my physical struggles are nowhere near as rough as his. What I do understand, however, is living with physical limitations. I do not find diabetes fun. It’s a curse, as a matter of fact, and after 20 years with the disease I still hate the day I was diagnosed.
It got me thinking, what else do I have that is considered as a “disadvantage” in life? There certainly are personality glitches we all have that cause friction. Physical limitations can get in the way of some activities. Monetary challenges can be the biggest sometimes.
Made me ask myself, “is it possible for me to enjoy the struggles in life?”
The question will be rolling around in my head for a while, because I clearly don’t have an answer. What I was presented, though, was a man with more to gripe about than me that loves the “disadvantages” he was born with. He sees them not as a hindrance, but as an avenue for connecting with people. That’s where I want to be.
What’s your “disadvantage”?