Does Disability Stop Us or is It a Source of Greatness
Disability – What Do We Do with That?
Who doesn’t have some sort of disability, either in mind, in body or even in spirit?
The question is: 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?
Because of My Crutches
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.
Getting to the top of a 4-mile cliff in 2004. Only a few of the 70 in the group made it to the top as I just had. Lucky someone had a camera with 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 it was because of that speech difficulty that people believed in Moses as God’s prophet.
Moses’ speech problem disappeared when he was speaking 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 as a result of a battle with the angel of Eisav, his brother.
Jacob was victorious. (Genesis 32:25)
I imagine the pain Jacob had to live with presented great challenges with all of the traveling he had to do, even in getting on and off of the wagons on which he rode.
Jacob traveled all the way down to Egypt with that pain.
After his 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)
A name change is an indication that a person is accessing another part of his soul.
Jacob’s pain and his victory were what preceded his name change.
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. Because of his pain, he became victorious and became a Light unto Nations for his children and for those after him.
History tells us that Abe Lincoln suffered from severe depression.
Abraham Lincoln was famously melancholy, experiencing periods of such deep depression throughout his lifetime that he contemplated suicide and spent weeks at a time bedridden.
Yet, history tells us also that Lincoln’s office was always open to listening to individuals who requested his help.
His own depression was the thing that made him more compassionate to others. His compassion contributed much to his greatness as president.
“The opposition researchers of today would have been very eager to discover Lincoln’s propensity for depression,” says presidential historian Michael Beschloss. If they had, we might have lost perhaps our greatest president.” 1
FDR had polio since the age of 39.
His wife, Eleanor, shared that it was FDR’s having polio that shaped his character as president, and made his presidency possible.
He had contracted polio in 1921, at age 39, and never recovered the use of his paralyzed legs. Eleanor, his wife, said this experience of struggling and failing to conquer the disease broke him out of the isolation of his background as a patrician who had lived a life of ease and privilege. In his experience with polio, he learned what it was like to struggle, and fail, but to persevere. 2
Then there was JFK. I personally found his story inspiring and revealing.
But not for the usual reasons.
The part that inspired me most is what JFK did with his illness.
For JFK, 50% of his lifetime had been spent in bed, unable to function because of various diagnoses ranging from Addison’s disease to Leukemia.
From the time that 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 Joe “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.”
Most of JFK’s time when he attended Choate Preparatory School in Connecticut was spent sick, confined to Choate’s infirmary.
There, it is said, JFK 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.
JFK was not an honor student or even a good student.
He graduated from Choate below the middle of his class.
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.
His disabilities created his greatness as President:
I found this commentary by Webster Tarpley, author, historian, journalist, lecturer, that supports my “Not Despite …. But Because” awareness:
“Kennedy was brought in originally expected to be a world puppet.
His pro-Nazi father, Joseph P. Kennedy, bootlegger, speculator, would guarantee that Kennedy would be obedient to the establishment. They figured JFK was a sex maniac who could be manipulated through that.
But through his personal suffering, Kennedy had discovered a personal sense of himself that went beyond just being a puppet.
He began to think about things like economic recovery, world peace, having a space program, making deals with the Soviets, cutting the federal reserve down to size, and a whole series of other things like real civil rights reform. He began pulling troops out of Vietnam as well.”
It was his personal illness that made Kennedy the greatest, most sincere, and trustworthy of all presidents of our time. From this commentary, we can conclude that had Kennedy not had his illnesses and disabilities, he could not have reached the level of greatness that he did.
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 Kennedy’s disabilities . . . but because of them that JFK became so successful.
People on the Spectrum
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 Asperger’s, which is on the Autism Spectrum.
Each had many of the characteristics of that syndrome, like a lack of ability to recognize social cues, avoidance of eye contact, a tendency to rock back and forth, coupled with an obsession with, and intense focus on certain subject matter.
Historical giants such as Marie Curie,
and recently added to that list, Bill Gates
are thought to have had Asperger’s.
Is it despite their Asperger’s traits . . . or because of those traits that they became so successful?
Did Einstein do his brilliant work of focusing on small details for hours and coming to creative conclusions despite his Asperger’s trait of intense focus on subject matter . . . or 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 had not planned 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 by victims of this illness as having one’s veins filled with lighter fluid and then lighting a match.
That is what it was like for me, as well.
I traveled hundreds of miles to be treated by the RSD medical doctor 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.
What CAN I Do?
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 that had been spent on Torah and use it to learn to heal myself.
I enrolled in alternative medicine courses and trainings, which eventually led to many alternative practitioner certifications.
Eventually, I completed more than 20 different healing modalities of alternative medicine certifications.
I found out about coaching as a profession from one of the alternative medicine students and signed up for the first of many years of those trainings the next day.
Within a few years, I was certified in many schools of coaching in addition to the mind-body modalities.
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?
To Shape Our Souls
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 my disabilities as giving me additional insight into understanding a drop of how the world works, and of understanding what inspires another to go on 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.
2 FDR: The President Who Made America Into a Superpower http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/ken-walshs-washington/2015/04/10/fdr-franklin-delano-roosevelt-made-america-into-a-superpower
Copyright ©Chana Klein 2015