Saturday, May 8, 2010

Lucky Man

I have noticed over the years that when the Mega Million Lottery reaches over $200 million without anyone winning it, people begin to get a little crazy. The local TV news show lines of people outside their neighborhood liquor stores impatiently waiting to buy fistfuls of lottery tickets with their hard earned money in the hopes they will be "lucky" enough to strike it rich. The odds of winning the lottery are one in millions I would imagine, but hope springs eternal.

 As I was watching the news the other day, the on-the-scene reporter was interviewing some of the folks in line asking them what they would do with the money if they were to win the jackpot. I thought one fellow in particular was representative of many of those in line by his response. He basically said that if he were "lucky" enough to win the lottery, he would party for two weeks, quit his job, buy homes and cars and a beautiful luxurious yacht so he could cruise through life living happily ever after.

The thought occurred to me, "Would one be truly "lucky" to win the lottery? Would one be "lucky" to have all the money in the world and be able to live on easy street forever?" You can probably guess what I think.

Looking in the dictionary I found a number of definitions for the word "lucky." One definition was,"Lucky stresses the agency of chance when bringing about a favorable result." However, the synonym I found so meaningful is: "Providential" -- which means meeting with unforeseen success, but more definitely implies the help or intervention of a higher power." [Merriam Webster online dictionary]

I think the lottery mentality is aptly described by the first definition of "lucky." In other words, it is strictly by chance that they will win mega millions and live happily ever after. Let me explain why the “providential” definition appeals to me.

Following my body surfing accident, I spent two weeks in the Intensive Care Unit at the Regional Trauma Center. The day finally came when I was to be transferred to a rehabilitation hospital which was to become my home for the next six months. As I was being rolled on a gurney to the back of the ambulance, a nurse was pumping air into my lungs using a hand held ambu bag.  It is a device that looks like a football and one end is attached to the tracheostomy tube which has surgically been placed in one’s throat as an airway to the lungs.  It is used when one is not attached to the ventilator or if the ventilator should fail. As I lay there, unable to speak or move any part of my body while air was being hand pumped into my lungs, another nurse which had spent a great deal of time caring for me, looked at Jo Anne and said, "Mrs. Rushton, your husband is a lucky man.” As Jo Anne looked at her in disbelief, she went on to say, "You don't understand what I'm saying just now, but your husband is a lucky man because he will get to experience a part of life that very few do and he will be a better man because of it.”

Although not understood at the time by either of us, her words proved to be prophetic. I actually am a "lucky" man. I have met with “unforeseen success” and joy and have experienced numerous times "the intervention of God“ in my life, preserving it, and enabling me to be able to say in my heart and to others, "It's Good to Be Alive!"

In retrospect, it has been quite an adventure and learning experience over the past 20 years.

Dr. Arnold Beisser in his wonderful book, "Flying without Wings," in just a few sentences has captured the essence of how I feel at this time in my life.  Dr. Beisser contracted polio as a young adult and lived out the remainder of his life in a wheelchair working as a practicing psychiatrist. He said, "My disability has taught me a lot and continues to do so.  When I was young and physically strong, to live life from a wheelchair was unthinkable.  When I was disabled, it was unacceptable.  Gradually over the years; however, not only has it become acceptable but I have found it to be satisfying as well." ["Flying without Wings" by Arnold R. Beisser, Page 135]    

I have been called lots of things since my injury such as "handicapped," "physically challenged," "mobility impaired," "quadriplegic," and a few others I can't mention, or at least don't want to.

Before my accident I felt I had a pretty good idea of who I was, but after the accident I was a little shaky for some time regarding that subject. Quite frankly, for an extended period, I really didn't know who or what I was. It was devastating!

In some ways, I felt I had left the human race I had been part of all my life. Something inside me; however, rebelled against the idea of being labeled as something that I then perceived as being inferior compared to a "normal" person.

Many years ago, along with some other  teachers, I spent several summers working at a day camp called Camp Sheanee (an Indian name for summer people) to earn some extra income.

We were given old Volkswagen vans and each weekday morning we would drive through the beautiful neighborhood streets of San Marino, California, picking up little rich kids that we would then entertain all day long. At the end of each day before being dropped off at their mansions, we would review all of the great activities they had just participated in, reminding them of how much fun they had  so they would give a glowing report to their parents about their experience at Camp Sheanee. 

Through the years I have frequently thought how different Camp Sheanee is compared to the program our Heavenly Father has designed for us during our lives in mortality, which is a little bit like an extended day camp.  I think it's OK with Him if we have a Camp Sheanee experience from time to time, but I doubt He measures our success by how much fun we have in mortality.  At the end of the day I don't think his first question to us will be, "Did you have a good time?"  So many of us however, much of the time, have a "Camp Sheanee" mindset regarding life.

Some of you have either read the writings of, or heard of the great scientist, Stephen W. Hawking. He has come to be thought of as the greatest mind in physics since Albert Einstein.

Still alive, he remains extremely busy, his work hardly slowed by Lou Gehrig's Disease which has left him completely immobile and unable to speak. For many years  he has used a wheelchair and has spoken through a computer and voice synthesizer.  He wrote: "I am quite often asked: How do you feel about having ALS? The answer is, not a lot. I try to lead as normal a life as possible, and not think about my condition, or regret the things I cannot do which are not many... I have had motor neuron disease for practically all my adult life, yet it has not prevented me from having a family and being successful in my work." [Writings of Stephen Hawking]

I am convinced we need never let adversity, whatever form it may take in our individual lives, destroy us or keep us from reaching our potential. The ultimate key to dealing with any kind of adversity is to turn our lives over to God. There really is no other way.

A great church leader and former secretary of agriculture under President Eisenhower said: "... men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will comfort their souls, deepen their joys, expand their vision, increase their opportunities, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, pour out peace, quicken their minds, raise up friends and strengthen their muscles." [Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, December, 1988, 4]

All of us will encounter pain and difficulty at some point in our lifetimes.  Over 20 years ago, soon after my accident, a colleague of mine quoted to me the following lines from the title of a beautiful little book written by Barbara Johnson: “Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional.”   How true this is. It is inevitable that we will all have our challenges and obstacles to deal with. However, being miserable over our life and circumstances is optional.

It’s like Dr. Beisser writes in his book, “I had to learn to live in the present and discover a way to live with, and hopefully even enjoy, the very limited options which were available to me.  I had to discover how to make the most of what came my way… My task was clear – the power to determine how I looked upon life was within me.  Whether I considered my disability a great tragedy and a loss or whether I saw it in some more positive light…If this was true…new worlds  of belief and perception were open to me, and new hope for what my life could be was waiting.” ["Flying without Wings," pages 112, 115]

His words echo in my ears and heart each morning as I am dressed in my "outfit" for the day, hoisted out of my bed by a hydraulic patient lifter, transferred to my chair and quickly reattached to my portable vent, and get into a sitting position as opposed to a prone one.  Lying in bed I truly feel handicapped, but in my chair, sitting upright, just think of what I can do.  I can work on the computer, read and write, or go outside and sit in the sun or roll around, and if I’m real lucky, get hauled into the van and go off with Jo Anne for a never ending adventure.  I truly am a lucky -- or as I prefer to call it—a blessed man.


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