Not Despite . . . But Because
by Chana Klein
A Life Lessons Story
How many of us have disability either in mind, in body or even in spirit?
What do we do with that? Does it stop us?
Or, is it the stuff that creates our success?
Do we achieve success despite our disability . . . or because of it?
I have run a half-mile in 3 ½ minutes on my crutches. When I did not need crutches to walk, I was never able to travel that fast. It is not despite my crutches that I could fly down the street . . . but because of them.
In studying the lives of leaders like Moses, Jacob, Lincoln, JFK, FDR and other historical giants, it glares out at me that each of these greats suffered some form of disability that interfered with his life.
Moses had a speech problem, a great challenge for a national speaker. But that speech difficulty was part of the reason that people believed in Moses as God’s prophet. The speech problem disappeared when he spoke for God. At those times, God would speak through Moses and so Moses’ speech was clear. Not despite . . . but because of Moses’ speech difficulty were people more aware of Moses as God’s prophet.
Jacob suffered sciatic nerve pain from a battle with the angel of his brother, Eisav. Jacob was victorious. (Genesis 32:25) I imagine that pain created great challenges in all of the traveling he had to do, even in getting on and off of the wagons in which he rode. Jacob traveled all the way down to Egypt with that pain.
After the victory over the angel, Jacob is told, “No longer is your name Jacob, but Israel, for you fought with God and with men and overcame. (Genesis 32:28)
That pain and victory was what led to the name change. A name change is an indication that a person is accessing another part of his soul. Because of the pain that Jacob acquired in the battle, he got to know, from that time onward, the part of himself that can fight with man, and even with God, and can overcome. Not despite . . . but because of the pain Jacob endured, he became victorious and a Light unto Nations for his children and for those after him.
Lincoln suffered from severe depression. Yet, those feelings made him more compassionate to people, as he always had an office open to listening to individuals who requested his help. FDR had polio since the age of 39. His wife, Eleanor, said that it shaped his character as president, and made his presidency possible.
I personally found JFK’s story inspiring and revealing, but not for the usual reasons. The part that inspired me most is what he did with his illness. 50% of his lifetime had been spent in bed, unable to function because of various diagnoses ranging from Addison’s disease to leukemia. Ever since JFK was a newborn, he was ill. He was given his last rights at least five times, the first being just after he was born. When JFK’s older brother, Joe, was born, their father started calling him President, as that was his father’s wish for him. When Jack (JFK, as we know him) was born, he was already deathly ill. So his father’s wish for him was simply that he “live.”
When JFK attended Choate Preparatory School in Connecticut, he was often sick and confined to Choate’s infirmary. There, it is said, he developed other skills. He had to develop a talent for keeping people interested in conversing with him, so that he would have people to talk to while confined to bed.
While confined to bed, he brought his reading speed up to 1200 words per minute, reading 10 books each week. He particularly studied “leadership” and had an almost obsessive fascination with politics. He even met his lifelong friend, Lemoyne Billings who was also confined to the infirmary. Their friendship lasted for life.
JFK was not an honor student or even a good student. He graduated below the middle of his class from Choate. The headmaster even tried to have JFK expelled the night before graduation. JFK was a known troublemaker and leader of a group of rabble-rousers that called themselves “The Muckers Club.”
Clearly, it was not his great academic abilities that got JFK the epitome of worldly success – becoming the 35th President of the United States. Rather, it was his disabilities, the disabilities that forced him to stay in bed, during which he created and accessed his own inner gifts.
It was not despite his disabilities . . . but because of them that JFK became so successful?
A lot of my work is with people on the Autism Spectrum. My experience with these beautiful souls leads me to believe that many of them have achieved greatness, or can achieve that greatness not despite . . . but because of their Autism Spectrum Disorder.
There are those in history who are believed to have had Aspergers Syndrome, which is on the Autism Spectrum. Each had many of the characteristics of that syndrome, like a lack of the ability to read social cues, the avoidance of eye contact, the tendency to rock back and forth, coupled with an obsession with, and intense focus on certain subject matter. Historical giants such as Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Mozart, Jefferson, and recently added to that list, Bill Gates are thought to have Aspergers. Is it despite their Asperger traits . . . or because of those traits that they have became so successful?
Did Einstein do brilliant work despite his Aspergers trait of focusing on small details for hours and coming to creative conclusions . . . or was it because of it? Did Van Gogh add beautiful color and abstract edges to his paintings despite the seizures he developed while in the hospital… or because of those seizures?
How many of our disabilities are the material out of which our success is created?
Do we do great things despite disability . . . or because of it?
My own story:
“You have Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and you are not returning to work,” the orthopedic surgeon announced to me.
I did not plan on ever ending my teaching career. I had believed that retirement would happen for me after my soul leaves this world, and even then, I used to tell people, that Heaven, for me, will be a classroom filled with kids.
The pain of the disease with which I was diagnosed is described as that of having one’s veins filled with lighter fluid and then lighting a match. That is what it was like for me, as well.
I, eventually, traveled hundreds of miles to be treated by the RSD MD who was considered to be the world guru of the disease. He diagnosed me with full body RSD and predicted, with certainty, that within a year, I would be confined to a wheelchair.
I was not able to dress myself without assistance, and had already lost my ability to walk. As I lay on my back with two pillows under my knees, I asked myself:
“What CAN I do?”
“I can learn!” was the answer that quickly came to me.
Whereas I had been learning Torah intensively for more than 21 years, I, now, had to take some of that time and learn to heal myself. I enrolled in alternative medicine courses and trainings, which eventually led to many certifications. Eventually, I completed more than 21 different healing modalities of training. I found out about coaching as a profession from one of the alternative medicine students and signed up for the first of many of those trainings the next day. Within a few years, I was certified in many schools of coaching. Using what I was learning, my physical condition got better and better. The pain dissipated and my ability to function increased and continues to do that each day.
I know that I never would have gotten the endless trainings and certifications, nor would I have been able to help the people who became my clients, had I not been so disabled, that I was forced to leave what I was doing, really, to leave what, at the time, I loved doing. How could I have known that I would be able to grow my brain and my body in such different, expansive ways, to be who I am today, to do what I do, not despite . . . but because of my disability?
Does God give us these disabilities to shape our souls? Are these the things that force us to reach above, and then reach deep inside, to pull out our inner greatness?
I look at my disabilities, of which I have many, both in mind and body. I see them as the source of my very meaningful life. I see them as the root of my being able to be there in just the right way for another person. I see them as giving me additional insight into understanding a drop of how the world works, and of understanding what inspires another to go on, and to experience victory over himself, and over others.
Not despite the challenges brought before us . . . but because of those challenges, do we find the inner greatness within ourselves, and the ability to express that greatness.
Not despite . . . but because of our disability, are we able to achieve what we do.
Download free story-ebook:
“My Child is Not Like the Child Next Door – Coaching Parents on the Spectrum”
by Chana Klein
Copyright © 2010 COPYRIGHT CHANA KLEIN. All rights reserved.
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