Earlier this week, while listening to a speaker talk about his life-long challenges with cystic fibrosis, a handful of words seemed to stay with me beyond the length of his talk.
“My life changed when I became angry with myself,” he said.
His words hooked me.
“For most of my life I was angry at God, the doctors, my parents — you name it, I was angry at them. But then one day it occurred to me there was really only one person to be angry at — me.”
No one would criticize someone who, as a 9-year-old, ran across an encyclopedia entry telling him he was approaching middle age. According to the set of hardback books in his living room, the average cystic fibrosis survival age is projected to be 25.
I’ll be somewhat of a spoiler here and let you know this remarkable man is now approaching his 40th birthday, married and blessed with a family. This point really helps drive home the speaker’s discovery, one he made while in college, and underscores his journey.
One day the speaker found himself literally knocked down to the ground during a pickup basketball game and needing help to get up. As guys do, a bit of trash talk came to the surface, but with an unusual result. The words triggered anger inside of him that manifested not at the other player, but himself. This basketball game would be become a tipping point for a young man who’d spent most of his life focusing his anger outward.
Shortly afterwards he found himself focusing on his personal self-improvement — signing up for weight-lifting classes and committing himself to exercise and fitness. As his body changed, so did his mind and self-confidence. By focusing on what he could do, what he could control, he found his world and surroundings improving.
Suddenly, because of focusing his energy inward, his life changed forever.
I found his lesson powerful, not just because of his medical challenge, but because his realization of understanding he — and he alone — would be in charge of the direction of his life. This powerful moment is one of those we all can relate to — only most of us do not face the extreme challenges of the speaker.
Today he’s a successful athlete, running and competing in road races and triathlons. He also donates a great amount of time helping people understand what cystic fibrosis means and how others can help. He even holds an annual softball tournament, named after his sister who died near birth of cystic fibrosis, raising more than a million dollars in a few short years.
The lesson for me is here is a guy just like you and me — only most of us do not carry the challenge of cystic fibrosis in our daily lives. And to him, he’s cutting a giant pathway through life and changing the world around him for the better. If anything, this should inspire all of us to live our lives with a bit more purpose.
To learn more about cystic fibrosis, visit http://www.cff.org.
Woolsey is publisher of the Times-Georgian.