By Mark E. Smith
A few days per week, on my wheelchair ride to and from work, I encounter an older woman who sits on her porch, watching the traffic go by. I roll up her walk, and we chat for just a minute or so, and the conversation is always the same: She tells me of how her ultimate salvation is going to be when she wins the state lottery, unyielding in her conviction toward it.
Indeed, she tells me of how in 77 years of living in the same house, never having left the valley that we live in, she’s going to take her lottery winnings and buy an “around-the-world steamship ticket.” She tells me of how she’s going to take her lottery winnings and pay off the debt that her “no-good husband” left her with when he died. And, she’s tells me of how she’s going to take her lottery winnings and put her great-grandchildren through college, the first generation to attend, she hopes. I once asked her how long she’s played the lottery, and she replied, “Since it began. Eventually, I have to win.”
Of course, statistically, she’ll never hit the jackpot, and she’ll likely spend the rest of her life on that porch, caught in the trap of wishful thinking. No, I certainly don’t want to judge the woman’s views, as I don’t know the entirety of the life she’s led. However, I can’t help but think that if she’d always applied her unyielding belief in winning the lottery to a belief in her own ability to simply work and achieve financial goals on her own accord, she’d be a lot farther in life. Truly, it’s indisputable that working day and night, and saving for one’s retirement and children’s education is the surest bet for financial peace – whereas, simply sitting on one’s porch counting on winning the lottery for financial salvation is sad at best.
I’ve seen this same waiting-for-the-lottery mentality stall the lives of some with disabilities. It must have been 15 years ago when I met a young man, my age, with quadriplegia, who was waiting to win his own lottery. We were both in our early 20s, and while others with disabilities and I pursued college and career, he was waiting for a cure – literally. He was paralyzed in a car accident at 16, and after that, he and his family focused all of their attention on awaiting a cure for his spinal cord injury. He told me of how after his accident, he never returned to high school, but was merely waiting for a medical breakthrough. “We’re not accepting anything short of a cure,” his father told me.
Here we are fifteen years later, and although I have no idea whatever happened to that young man, science tells us that he hasn’t been cured, that he’s never won the lottery that his family hinged his life upon. Yet, I hope that at some point he realized that while holding out hope for a cure can prove positive, it shouldn’t include putting one’s life on hold. I hope that he realized the importance of moving his life forward, irregardless of a cure, as time ticks for all of us, and years spent simply waiting are waisted when one can be reaping the rewards of doing. In all, I hope that he went back to school, got his degrees, built a career, started his family, and made his life more about doing and succeeding than waiting and longing.
I know that some believe that making the most of what we have, not waiting for a cure to save us, lacks vision toward accomplishing the impossible. But, the opposite is actually true. In a literal sense, those with disabilities who are most influential toward promoting real potentials toward cures aren’t sitting around with their lives on hold wishing for a cure. Rather, those with true hope are out making the most of themselves in the here-and-now with disability, pursuing education and career, raising their families, engaging in community – accomplishing whatever they can with their individual potentials – all while lobbying for research and creating awareness toward cures. After all, cures don’t come from wishful thinking, but from actually doing.
Along the lines of common sense, what does one truly have to gain from simply waiting for a cure? I mean, if one truly believes that a cure is coming, why wouldn’t someone best prepare for it by pursuing education, career, and family – or living the fullest life possible to one’s abilities – in the meantime? As I always say, there’s no benefit to being uneducated, poor, uninspired, lonely, and disabled, so why would one plan on being uneducated, poor, uninspired, lonely, and cured? I know that sounds a bit funny, but there’s a real point to it: If one is going to ensure a successful life, cured or otherwise, it can only start with the immediate, or one will never succeed.
As those with disabilities, if we’re going to lead successful lives, surely we can focus partly on the quest for a cure, if we wish – but we shouldn’t hinge our lives upon it. What we must do is, start with the here-and-now – disability and all – and focus on making moves that universally improve our lives: Education, employment, relationships, and community, using whatever abilities we have at any given moment to create impact and momentum. And, along the way, if we wish, we can also contribute to the quest for a cure, understanding that it’s part of our lives, but not the sum of it. That is, we can still buy lottery tickets, but it can’t be in place of working to ensure our own wealth.
If we simply follow that common-sense path – making the most of our lives, disability and all, working toward a balanced life of accomplishment – an astounding transformation occurs: After 15 years, one awakens not in one’s parents’ house, with life still on hold, but in one’s own home, with a spouse, children, and inspired career. And, if some day a cure comes, it will be terrific icing on the cake – because one has already worked to make life so remarkably fulfilling.