I was just finishing up at the gym this morning and was seated to put my shoes on when a gentleman hobbled into the locker room. It looked like his right side had some kind of weakness and as he walked he appeared to have a drop-foot.
He headed over to my corner of the locker room and I made room on the bench for him to place his things. He just started talking to me out of the blue about getting rained on this morning. His voice was very slurred and I could tell immediately that he had some challenges.
I would guess he was about 60 years old. He said his name was Keith, he asked me what I did, and tried to tell me about himself. It was clear that the words were coming very hard for him. He pointed to his head and tried to say that he had had a stroke. I finished his sentence for him in understanding. We were able to figure out how to communicate about where he lived and it turned out we live pretty close to each other.
Three years ago he had a stroke and he said that at the time, he couldn't speak or move around. Now, three years later, he was in the locker room at the YMCA, getting ready to exercise. How amazing is that!
I said my goodbyes, shook his hand and smiled as I headed back to my world, all the while thinking, would I have the strength and perseverance to do what Keith had? Would I be able to pick myself up and put myself out there the way that he did? I had tears in my eyes as I left the locker room this morning, thinking about what a tremendous inspiration this person was, and that he probably has no idea that he is one.
The human condition is defined by adversity and perseverance. We all are working to overcome something in our lives at any point in time - some big, some small. Buddhist teachings say that suffering is inherent in all of our lives and that through discipline and perseverance, we have an opportunity to overcome that suffering.
I don't believe in creating relativity, i.e. saying that my problems are nowhere near as big as Keith's, so I shouldn't complain. The reality is that your burden is your burden. Don't let anybody tell you that your challenge isn't big or profound enough and that you should just buck up. It's nobody's place to judge your experience.
It's scary when we're faced with a health, personal or economic challenges. There may be that voice in the back of your head that says "it's too hard - it would be easier to give up and move on." Don't feel bad about thinking that way - it's natural. But, what I've learned over the years is that perseverance, hard work and focus pay off. Sometimes the smaller issues prepare us to handle the big ones which will inevitably come.
I think it's also important to practice gratitude. Keith was grateful to be alive and to be at the Y this morning. I was grateful that he crossed my path.
I was inspired this morning by a man who I do not know. Who inspired you today and who are you going to inspire?