Uplifting stories from around the globe.
Stumbling Past Failure To Success
June 6, 2014
Alan A. Malizia
“Success is often the result of taking a misstep in the right direction.”-Al Bernstein
By the good grace of God, I survived the storm. Poliomyelitis would initially leave me paralyzed from the neck down; but alive. That morning I was an active and vital four-year old; shortly after, gravity would become my master. I was in the one percent of victims who had motor neurons infected and destroyed when the virus entered my central nervous system. This virus form, known as asymmetric paralysis, leads to muscle weakness and flaccid paralysis. So weakened, was I, that my legs and chest had to be bound to a chair to keep me seated upright, with my arms suspended from slings, to provide elevation and movement. Otherwise, I would simply slump over with my ineffective arms at my sides. After a nine month stay in a convalescent hospital, restoration would continue elsewhere. Piecing together the meager physical remnants and renewing shaken self-confidence, would be the task of the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center, and a supportive, loving and patient family.
The program addressed the many weaknesses that were particular to me. Focus will be on that which would be most obvious to those when in my company; walking. Each weekly session would include an obstacle course, stairs included, until I became accustomed to my leg braces. As a toddler, before polio, my parents held my hands as I struggled to my feet and stumbled about acquiring a natural balance that would come by trial and error. Now, my physical therapist would assume that role. With his hands extended, he beckoned me to step toward him. I, again, struggled to my feet and stumbled about; only now, while gripping supporting parallel bars. And in this endeavor, that natural balance would be sought and achieved by unnatural means, with the errors incurred by trials here, purchased at a higher price.
As a part of the process, my therapist would take me out for a stroll in town. There to apply my training by traversing sidewalks, curbs and accessing businesses. All in preparation for what I could expect from the once familiar outside world, which has now become foreign. I had to integrate an alertness into my new way of life. Unlike the able-bodied, the potential for danger was everywhere. I looked down more often, than most others looked up. I would approach any stroll with the mind-set of a golfer. As a golfer lines up his putt to the hole, he takes into account the breaks and texture of the green along the way. In his mind are registered the grain of the grass that determines speed, and break points along the path, that must be met to successfully put the ball in the hole.
In walking I, too, would have to assess the route that I would be taking to successfully reach my goal(the place where I wished to be). Success would be achieved, in a well planned timely manner, if I did not fall along the way. I, like the golfer, would survey the path and detect obstacles that were present, along with the contour of the terrain, that may prove to be problematic. With my eyes now off the target and realigned to the ground, I would move forward-focusing on those points along the way that had to be successfully negotiated or avoided. For one not dependent on crutches and/or leg braces, it seems quite a bit to consider, for simply taking a walk. But, for those similarly challenged, it is par for the course.
The Golden Rule for the disabled is simply– Don’t fall. However, as a precaution, learning how to fall was integrated into the training process. Gym mats were placed on the floor beneath me for protection. And I was well armed with the necessary techniques to further cushion the impact. However, when falling in the real world, one encounters the likes of asphalt, linoleum and concrete, rather than a soft matted surface. Even though every attempt to avoid falling is made; it does happen. I have had my share of mishaps in 64 years of living. Yet I am still here to discuss them. I will therefore presume that my presence confirms success. Most falls, that I was victim to, resulted in bumps and bruises; and on a rare occasion, a fracture or concussion. When such events occurred, I would make adjustments from the experience, to prevent the same in the future.
On the last day of school, before one particular Christmas vacation, after dismissing my class, I waited by my classroom until all the students had cleared the hallway. With all the hustle, bustle and excitement, the halls were filled with students who were rushing to catch their buses at dismissal. When the halls finally emptied, I felt it safe to make my way out. With the lights already shut, the halls were a bit dark. But, there seemed to be enough light from bordering classroom windows. As I walked down the hall, suddenly, I felt one foot slip out from under me. I was still on my feet, but caught in an awkward position-bent forward and teetering on one braced leg and crutch. Evidently, the students, in their zeal of celebration, had tossed handfuls of rice, which covered the floor. I was alone with no one to call out to. The teachers on that floor had left as well. I was deciding, whether or not, to simply drop to the floor, and then crawl to a classroom, in an attempt to get back on my feet from a chair. With each attempt to right myself, I was nearing exhaustion.
Just as I was ready to let myself drop, one of the senior boys came into the hallway, having forgotten something from his locker. I yelled to him for help. He rushed over and propped me up until I regained my balance. I leaned against the wall until my strength returned. Then I made my way out, not by the hallway, but through the classrooms that lined the hall. Valuable knowledge that does not translate to wisdom is wasted in pride. If I stubbornly insisted on traveling again through the hall, I very likely would have fallen again. For one who is characterized by the idiom: “he has gotten too big for his britches”, may very well find himself on the seat of his pants.
In any goal of life, from simply enjoying an anticipated uneventful walk, to seeing life’s dreams to fruition, there will inevitably be falls along the way. If one is prideful, then one will be prone to repeating the same mistake. In so doing, one will fail to achieve the simplest of goals, and, as would be expected, the more complex. For pride does precede the fall.
On the contrary; he who, through humility, would not twice put his hand over an open flame, is the wiser. For when he falls, he learns from it, and continues successfully toward his goal by a different route. By willingly changing one’s route, one eventually arrives at the desired destination. One who is unwilling to alter one’s route, is destined to suffer the disappointment of an end not intended.
As one can learn how to fall; so, too, can one learn from it.