When my father was young, he could have given Jack LaLanne a run for his money. When he was an adolescent in the 1940s, he ordered Charles Atlas magazines and fashioned make-shift weights out of pipes and cinder blocks. He was also a runner, long before the Cooper Institute extolled the virtues of aerobic exercise.
But in 1961, just three months before I was born, life in my family’s home changed radically. While building a tree house for my brother, he fell out of a tree – two weeks later, two discs in his back ruptured. Because of a misdiagnosis, the discs were not surgically removed until three months later, so he became paralyzed from the waist down. Since he knew the value of physical training, he continued to life weights to keep his upper body strong. He also rode a bike for twelve miles a day. Ultimately, he regained feeling to his knees, and walked with a cane until his death in 2009 — he continued an exercise routine until just two months before he died.
He told me that on one of his afternoon bike treks, a truck driver drove up beside him and asked him if he was a boxer in training — he remembered thinking about the irony of the question. Little did the man know that despite his obvious brawn, he was barely able to keep his balance when standing. Although he was no boxer, he was one of the strongest people I’ve ever known, despite his handicap.
When I am Weak, I can be Strong
I have the privilege of knowing a 95+ year old woman who dedicated her entire career to being an Army nurse. During the 1940s, Helen Keller regularly visited the Army hospital where Elsa worked, visiting those wounded in battle during World War II.
Elsa told me that Ms Keller recognized her in the hallways of the hospital, because she “felt” her unique stride as she approached; she was able to recognize everyone she regularly encountered that way. The void left by her the three sense she lacked (sight, hearing and speech) greatly amplified those that remained. She had accepted what “was” and chose to work within her own reality.
What an irony exists when it comes to weakness and suffering — most of us still have more questions, even as some of them are answered as we mature. Carl Jung once stated that if we think we have all of the answers, then we’ll stop asking questions, and when we stop asking questions, we’ll cease to grow. And if we cease to grow? Our weaknesses will remain weaknesses.