My childhood hero was Glenn Cunningham who died in 1988. When he was seven years old his legs were burned in a schoolhouse fire which killed his brother. His legs were burned so badly that the doctors recommended amputation but his parents wouldn't allow it. The doctors said he would never walk again because he had lost the flesh on his legs and the arch of his left foot was virtually gone. In spite of the doctor's prediction his parents massaged him, worked with him and helped him use his l egs. With a positive attitude and sheer determination, two years later he was running, but with difficulty. He continued running until he was good enough to make the track team in college. He went on to set a world record for the indoor mile and 1500 meter. He made the 1932 and 1936 Olympic teams. He had a strong religious faith. His favorite Bible verse was Isaiah 40:31: "But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." Born in Elkhart, Kansas he was called the "Kansas Flyer" and was famous for overcoming his physical limitations.
Tom Dempsey was a kicker for the New Orleans Saints. On November 8, 1970 the Saints were trailing Detroit by one point with only two seconds left on the clock. The Saints had the ball on the forty five yard line. The Saints coach decided to try the impossible, field goal attempt. No one had ever made a field goal from that distance before. Dempsey went in for the attempt and with the ball held actually sixty three yards from the uprights. He made the kick and Dempsey broke the NFL field goal record while winning the game. That was a historical moment in professional football, but what's really amazing is that Dempsey was born with no right hand and only half a right foot.
The famous French flier Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1900 – 1944) along with his navigator crashed in the Sahara desert in 1935. They had flown for nineteen hours while trying to win a prize in a flying contest. They had no food or water and for three days they suffered the heat. They were on the verge of dying. On the fourth day a Bedouin on a camel found them and they were rescued. He went on to continue flying and the desert experience led him to write a famous small book. He wrote the famous fable The Little Prince which begins with a pilot being marooned in the desert.
On New Year's Day in 1929 the Rose Bowl game was between the University of California, Berkeley and Georgia Tech. Midway through the second quarter Cal's center Roy Riegels scooped up a fumble by Tech about thirty yards from Tech's end zone. Somehow he got turned around and ran the wrong way. He was running full speed back,towards Cal's goal line some sixty five yards away. Cal's quarterback chased after Riegels screaming at him to stop and finally caught him at the three yard line. Riegels tried to turn and run back, but was swarmed by Tech players who tackled him on the one yard line. Cal decided to punt the ball, but the punt was blocked and Tech scored giving them a two to zero lead. Riegels was totally distraught, but continued to play after Cal's coach Price encouraged him. Tech went on to win the game eight to seven. Riegels was thereafter known as "wrong way Riegels," but was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. He died in 1993 at age eighty four.
All of this reminds me of R.L. Sharpe who wrote:
"Each is given a bag of tools A shapeless mass – A book of rules: And each must make – ere life is flown – A stumbling block or a stepping stone"
These examples should encourage us to keep struggling and to not let adverse events in our lives stop us in self pity or discouragement. Let's remember the wonderful lesson from The Clown and the Crocodile where John McLelland writes "One day a group of people will go to a cemetery, hold a brief service, and return home. All except one: that will be you."
David Steinell-Rast is a monk who has written a number of spiritual books. He advocates "always be surprised." For example, he says, before you open your eyes in the morning you should stop and be surprised that you have eyes to open because there are more then forty million people in the world who cannot see. He says you should go through your day "surprised" at anything and everything since that is the beginning of being grateful for what you have been given. Gratitude for your gifts, he says, overcomes the indifference of an affluent society and leads to love of God and neighbor.
We should be grateful for what we have been given. Most of life's gifts are totally undeserved and there is so much for us to be thankful for all around us.