At some point in your life circumstances will force you to decide whether you’re going to be a victim or a survivor. Life is full of little dramas that you can allow to crush you, or that you can choose to use to lift yourself up. Stumbling block or stepping stone? I choose the latter.
Over the years, as life doled out its little “surprises,” I learned to ask myself “Is this a stumbling block or a stepping stone?” I found that 9 times out of 10, whatever challenge I was facing was a stepping stone. And when it looked like a stumbling block, my mantra of “over, under, around or through” served me well: Viewed from a different angle, that stumbling block would serve as a stepping stone. I stepped up.
Recently I ran into an old friend that I hadn’t seen in a number of months. When I asked her what was new, she said, “You didn’t hear?” She then went on to tell me how her 20-year-old son was involved in a car accident and was now paralyzed from the chest down. Everything changed in that instant. For both of them. She had since given up her career to become his care-taker and it was only by chance that I had lucked into running into her. She’d only had a couple of outings since the accident in January.
I was moved to tears. I’ve “watched” this boy grow up in his mother’s eyes and now I was watching an entirely different scenario played out in her eyes.
“Don’t cry,” she told me. “It’s really been a blessing! As strange as it sounds, I believe that this accident saved his life. You see, he was doing a lot of partying with his friends, and he had been drinking that night. I thank God that no one else was involved, and I thank God that he’s still here. I could be telling you that I put my son in the ground in January, and I’m not. And he could have had a head injury instead of a spinal cord injury, and he didn’t – he’s still him. So, we’re blessed! This is going to be OK, we’re OK.”
She went on to tell me about how supportive her community is, and how her son is determined to continue drumming in his band. She told me that she and her son are working on keeping him physically fit so that when medicine finds a way for him to walk again, he’ll be ready. She also told me that her son is starting to talk to other kids, letting them know about the price that they may pay if they stay on the path they’re traveling. Powerful stuff.
I realized that she and her son chose to step up, and I was inspired.
My mother was full of great sayings and one of her favorites was “Life is a selfish program.” It took me years to understand what she meant by that, and even as I type the words, I realized that my understanding evolves over time.
Today, I take it to mean that you have to make your own luck, you have to make your own choices, and you have to learn to choose for YOU! Stumbling block or stepping stone? For me, that means opting for the stepping stone every time.
Sometimes, we all need a hand up onto that stone; I find that hand up through inspiration. Among other means (my faith chief among them) I find inspiration in the form of stories, sayings, lyrics, poetry, images, even cartoons. I use that inspiration to pick me up on those days when I need it. I have also found that the ability to laugh at myself is invaluable. Taking myself too seriously never gets me feeling better, but seeing the humor in every situation does.
There’s no humor in my friend’s story, but there’s a message in it, to be sure. She and her son will keep me stepping up when the chance to stumble looms. I encourage you to tuck their story into your “inspiration toolbox” and use it when you need it.
Another story that has been modified over the years, but that never fails to lift me up is the story of identical twins being “studied.” One was a perennial optimist, the other a pessimist. They were separated and put in two identical rooms where they could be observed. The optimist was put into a room full of horse manure and the pessimist was put into a room full of shiny new toys.
Much as had been expected, the pessimist entered the room of new toys and inspected the toys one by one, claiming as he tossed each one aside that it was “stupid,” or “lame,” or “broken.” At then end, he sat in the corner, arms crossed over his chest, surrounded by “broken” toys and pouting.
But to their astonishment, the optimist entered the room full of horse manure and raced to the pile, grabbing gobs of it and maniacally flinging it against the walls! This was totally unexpected!
The observers raced into the room and asked the boy “What are you doing?” The child replied, “Please help me, and hurry! With all this manure, there must be a pony under here somewhere!”
Most recently, I came across a parable that further illustrates my “stumbling block or stepping stone” outlook.
It seems that one afternoon, a farmer’s old donkey fell into his well and the farmer couldn’t figure out how to get the donkey out. After a while, the farmer determined that neither the donkey nor the well were worth saving. He enlisted the help of his neighbors, asking them to carry dirt to dump into the well to bury the donkey and put him out of his misery. The neighbors agreed.
The donkey, realizing that he was going to be buried alive, started to panic. Then he realized that panic wouldn’t serve him; reason would. The donkey determined that after every shovelful of dirt, if he shook it off of his back and stepped up onto it, in that way he could eventually climb out of the well.
“Shake it off and step up, shake it off and step up, shake it off and step up.” That was the donkey’s mantra. When panic threatened his calm, he repeated his mantra that much more vigorously, “SHAKE IT OFF AND STEP UP!”
Before long, the donkey was able to climb out of the well and lived happily ever after.
The point in all of this is that life will always offer you a choice: Victim or Survivor; Stumbling Block or Stepping Stone.
The next time you find yourself faced with a potentially tragic situation, remember my friend (or friends of your own) and find the blessing. The next time your find yourself in a “crappy” situation, look for the pony! And when you find yourself at the bottom of a well and you’re being buried alive, shake it off and step up! It worked for the donkey. It will work for you, too!