Seeing Things, Saying Things

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An Unlikely Place to Find Wisdom

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paxton-footbridge-x

I was standing on a footbridge in Paxton, Illinois, with my camera poised to make an image. It was just before noon.

It was not the best of times in my life. I was at a career crossroads and quite upset about the path I was being forced to take. Rough times were ahead and I was having difficulty accepting what has happening.

Looking to my left, I saw a solitary figure who seemed to be walking toward me with a purpose.

When he reached the bridge, he stopped and introduced himself. We shook hands and struck up a conversation.

He had been a physics teacher at the local high school until retiring in 2008. I’ve never taken a physics course but imagine it to be a difficult field of study. He acknowledged there is a lot of math involved so he used humor to put students at ease.

He noticed my hearing aids and we talked about those because he, too, wore hearing aids.

That somehow led to his telling me about a medical condition that he had that may have been Hydrocephalus.

It causes the head to swell and an abnormal amount of fluid to accumulate on the brain. It is more common in children, but can occur in adults. He described his experiences with this affliction in detail.

He lost the ability to urinate and must wear a catheter and a plastic bag to collect his urine. He pointed to the spot where the bag was situated underneath the shorts on his left leg. The condition also causes him to have difficulty walking.

The most devastating effect, though, was that his personality changed. He said that people who knew him said that he wasn’t the same person as he had been before.

If I understood him correctly, this led to his being forced to retire from teaching. That could have left him angry and bitter. But he accepted it.

The conversation pivoted to the difficulty of accepting the tough situations we find ourselves faced with in life. I said that getting to acceptance can be extremely difficult. He concurred.

He said he believed in God and related acceptance to his faith. I braced for a mini-sermon, but that did not come.

Instead, he restated the point that it is hard to get to acceptance. But with acceptance comes freedom.

I let that sink in. He was right, although at the time I wasn’t sure why.

Perhaps he had learned that no matter how much he railed against his health woes, that wouldn’t change anything.

He could be angry with his doctors, with the administrators who had forced him out of his job or even with God.

But that wouldn’t change a thing. It was a waste of time and energy to fight a battle he was not destined to win.

By accepting things as they are he had freed himself from those endless losing battles and had more time to focus on what he could control in his life.

Wearing a urine collection bag wasn’t convenient or pleasant, he said, but it enabled him to be mobile.

This man’s understanding of the complexity of the struggle to reach acceptance gained my respect.

So many people want to help those struggling with adversity by spouting positive bromides as though hearing them will make everything well. Bromides suggest an easy solution, but there are seldom easy solutions to complex problems.

The physics teacher had an errand to complete so we shook hands and exchanged a pleasant farewell.

He will never know, but he had just taught me an important lesson.

He didn’t coin the phrase “acceptance equals freedom.” You’ll find it in many self-help books. But he introduced me to it.

It is as though that man had been sent to teach me a lesson that I needed to learn.

In telling this story to my wife, she reached the same conclusion and added, “when the pupil is ready to learn the teacher will appear.”

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Written by csanders429

November 4, 2016 at 5:42 am

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