Loving Whatever Happens

The only thing I can not do with my hooks is pick up the dinner check?

Harold Russell

I know the above quote is an odd one to start this discussion, but I have been thinking about Harold a lot lately for a variety of reasons. I worked many years with Harold at his consulting firm Harold Russell Associates and then we co-founded a non-profit organization called the Harold Russell Institute (HRI). The purpose of HRI was to match employed people with disabilities as mentors for people with disabilities who were not working.

Harold lost his hands because of a defective grenade in WWII. His successful rehabilitation journey learning to use hooks aided by his ability to eventually adopt a positive attitude led to acting in a rehabilitation film “Diary of a Sergeant” to show to other veterans who had lost limbs. This short film was seen by the movie director William Wyler which led to Harold being cast to play the part of a handicapped sailor in the classic movie The Best Years of Our Lives produced by Samuel Goldwyn. Harold won two Academy Awards for his role in the movie, the only person in history to win two Oscars for the same role. This eventually led to speaking tours on tolerance and the rights of people with disabilities. He eventually became Chair of the President’s Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities which started with President Kennedy and ended with President Reagan. Harold advocated for people with disabilities all of his life with humor and compassion.

So one of the reasons I have been thinking about Harold is that I am once again going through the non-profit incorporation process only this time with the Creative Soul of Children (CSC). I am grateful that I have the experience to do this. Another reason I have been thinking about Harold is the result of a comment someone made about similarities between my journey with my son Tyler and Harold’s journey. This came about from an article in the Boston Globe’s “Spiritual Life” column featuring my spiritual parenting journey with Tyler. (I have included the article below.) My friend wrote, “That’s a powerful and very individual story, and of course puts me in mind of your old friend (and a mentor of sorts) Harold Russell, whom you metabolized as a completely different entity in yourself, but whose stamina in survival, and optimism, and use of a kind of stabilizing otherness of the spirit — not sinking with the one you’re trying to save from sinking — I see in your own story.   I suppose it was no accident that you were helping him (and he you) when I first met you.”

I am a firm believer that life gives us the lessons we need for whatever we are called to do. There is a reason I ran a nonprofit organization with Harold and I am beginning to apply my lessons from that experience to what I am attempting to do with The Creative Soul of Children. At the same time, I do not want to live in the past, only appreciate what is in the present, loving whatever comes my way. This appears to be a paradox and one I am finally content to just let be. It is the experiences I have had and the lessons I have learned that allow me to embrace the idea of loving what is.

Harold published a book in 1949 titled Victory in My Hands in which he tells his story up until the time he began to be a well-known public speaker. I would like to share some of what he wrote in conclusion of the book. The language is somewhat old-fashioned but the message is still relevant.

I think it was Emerson who said that a man’s weakness is often his greatest strength. Waking up in a hospital bed at Camp Mackall to find that I had no hands, I wasn’t quite ready to believe that. But in the years since then I have discovered and rediscovered that truth over and over again.

There is nothing startling new in that, I know. It is a truism as old as man, nor was Emerson the first to state it, I’m sure. Yet it is a stark fact that can be, that must be, repeated constantly so long as there are human beings on this earth. . . . . . . . .

My weakness—my handlessness—my sense of inferiority—has turned out to be my greatest strength. I didn’t think so at the time it happened and I don’t think I’d ever willingly lose my hands, if I had it to do all over again. But having lost them, I feel that perhaps I have gained many fine things I might never have had with them.. . . . The important thing is that this seeming disaster has brought me a priceless wealth of spirit that I am sure I could never have possessed otherwise. I have enjoyed a life that has been full and rich and rewarding, a life that has had meaning and depth it never had before. I am very grateful. . . . . . . .

Too many of us squander precious energy, time and courage dreaming of things that were and never can be again, instead of dedicating ourselves to realities and the heavy tasks of today. I think I can speak with some authority on this subject. I wasted many weary months trying to wishfully think back a pair of hands.

If this story has any value or meaning at all—and I say this in all humility and sincerity—it is only because it confirms once again an ancient truth: that man’s spirit is the most powerful force for good on earth.

This idea was recently reinforced when I read Jonathon Mooney’s wonderful new book The Short Bus, A Journey Beyond Normal. He travels the US visiting with many different types of people labeled as disabled in a short bus which is his symbol of special education. This is a journey of trying to come to terms with his childhood struggles of being labeled dyslexic and ADD and his own understanding of what it means to be normal. He wonders, “Are our deficits and disorders actually our strengths?” He eventually decides that, “disability and normalcy are ideas we create as a culture and society and something we can transform.”

Byron Katie in her inspirational new book, A Thousand Names for Joy, Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are tells this message over an over again in many different ways. The theme of surrendering to and then accepting and loving whatever comes our way is expressed by all three of these writers in different ways. Katie follows this theme to its ultimate conclusion of an awakened mind. It is worth ending my written thoughts with some provocative examples of Katie’s profound and inspiring insights.

Whatever happens, I always look for the gift in it. I don’t have eyes for anything else. Life is not difficult; it’s your thinking that makes it difficult………There is no suffering in the world; there’s only an uninvestigated story that leads you to believe it……. There is nothing more life-giving than inner peace………We live in a state of grace.

Categories General Spiritual Musings | Tags: | Posted on September 10, 2007

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