Sunday, August 12, 2012

I Almost Died, but So Did The Brooklyn Bridge

I believe that adversity is the grindstone of life.

If you are strong willed, determined, and solid in your convictions, that grindstone is simply gonna polish your rough edges and allow the real you to shine.

Conversely, if you are weak minded, complacent, and unsure of your convictions, well that same grindstone is going to turn you to dust.

Adversity is a part of life. There is no avoiding it. Adversity will confront us all. We must decide whether we are going to fight through it or let it pulverize us.

I have had many adversities in my life, not the least of which was bone cancer.
At the age of 14 I found out that I had a nasty form of bone cancer in my ankle. As with all cancer of this type there was a possibility it could spread and I'd be toast.

The more disheartening news (if you can imagine) was that the best case scenario wasn't too sunshiny either. The doctor thought amputation was highly likely.

This isn't the greatest news for a young athlete. But I never dwelled on it. I figured I'd do the best I could with what I had left. If they had to take my leg I'd just run a little slower (and possibly in circles). But it wasn't gonna stop me.

Well, obviously I didn't die. I actually had somewhat of a miraculous occurrence inside my ankle. My body had built a bone capsule around the cancer. Upon closer examination the doctor was amazed by this and it changed his prognosis. He decided there was a chance to save my foot.

I need to take a second and thank that doctor. I owe the quality of life I've enjoyed over the passed 20 years to Dr Kenneth Jaffe at UAB. He did a procedure that was experimental at the time and he was able to remove the cancer completely.

I never underwent chemo or radiation.

I made a full recovery. I actually excelled at sports (primarily baseball) more after the surgery than before. I came back to lead the league in stolen bases (not too shabby for having almost lost half my leg 8 months prior).

Obviously going through all of that isn't something one would ever want. It was scary at times. But even at its scariest, it never beat me. Even if they had had to take my leg it wouldn't have beat me. I was determined to get passed it and I did.

As I said above , we have all had adversities in life. I have had too many to count (as I'm sure you have too). But the cancer in my leg was a big one.

What I'm here to tell you though is, I have no doubt I'm a better , stronger person now for having lived through it.

When the "grindstone" went to work on me at 14, there was never a second where I believed I would be turned to dust. I basically looked adversity in the eye and said ,"Hey buddy. You won't beat me. You can't beat me. You are not about to turn me to dust so.....get to polishing. Oh......and while you're at it could ya scratch a little lower?".


The above is just a brief synopsis of one of the stories of one of my many bouts with adversity.

I came through that one with flying colors. I'm fortunate to be with you today and try my best to act thusly.

When the adversities of life come for us we are tested individually. That metaphoric grindstone is aimed at us one at a time. How we react individually to the grinding is to be determined by us and us alone.

That seems to be a solitary, lonely situation.
We face our adversities all alone, .....however we have help.

One of the most beautiful parts of the human condition is our connection with other people (past and present actually). Through this connection we are able to gain strength and comfort by leaning on others' experiences.
We can see their courage and determination and use it to fuel our actions during our one-on-one bouts with conflict.

There have been so many millions of courageous people with incredible stories it is pretty simple to find one.

During my bout with bone cancer, I drew lots of courage and strength from reading about other people who had overcome similar situations as mine. I also enjoyed reading about people overcoming problems that were in no way similar to mine (other than the fact that things weren't going so well for them obviously).

One that pops into my mind is the story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge.

The Brooklyn Bridge that spans the river tying Manhattan Island to Brooklyn is truly a miracle bridge. In 1863, a creative engineer named John Roebling was inspired by an idea for this spectacular bridge. However, bridge-building experts throughout the world told him to forget it; it could not be done.

Roebling convinced his son, Washington, who was a young up and coming engineer, that the bridge could be built. The two of them developed the concepts of how it could be accomplished and how the obstacles could be overcome. With unharnessed excitement and inspiration, they hired their crew and began to build their dream bridge.

The project was only a few months under construction when a tragic accident on the site took the life of John Roebling and severely injured his son, Washington. Washington was left with permanent brain damage and was unable to talk or walk. Everyone felt that the project would have to be scrapped since the Roeblings were the only ones who knew how the bridge could be built.

Even though Washington was unable to move or talk, his mind was as sharp as ever, and he still had a burning desire to complete the bridge. An idea hit him as he lay in his hospital bed, and he developed a code for communication. All he could move was one finger, so he touched the arm of his wife with that finger, tapping out the code to communicate to her what to tell the engineers who were building the bridge. For thirteen years, Washington tapped out his instructions with his finger until the spectacular Brooklyn Bridge was finally completed.


When I face life's trials and tribulations, I still harken back to myself at 14. I try to harness that "Bring it on! I can take it!" attitude, but I also look to people like the Roeblings. The faith and determination that that father and son displayed is awe inspiring. It would've been easy to give up.
Hell, there was so much stacked against poor Washington that it would've been completely understandable if he gave up. But if he gave up we wouldn't have the Brooklyn Bridge. And more importantly , if he had given up, he would've been allowing that grindstone to turn him, his father, and their dreams to dust.
Washington didn't see that as an option. He fought through it and made his family's dream a reality.


So far every time life has knocked me down I've been able to get back up. As I said before I made these desicions on my own. But I have not technically done it all alone. Sure it is my decision alone to rise again, but stories like the one of the Roeblings have always been an inspiration.

It's like Washington's refusal to give up is a helping hand.
Next time I've been knocked to the ground, that might be the one I reach for to get myself back up.

And it is my plan that when I'm faced with whatever trouble that is, .....just like Washington, I will shine.


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