Following Fran

By Mark E. Smith

I recently participated in a San Francisco Chronicle newspaper debate over legalizing marijuana in California, and I quickly topped the debate as holder of the least popular position:

….As one with a severe disability, I’m constantly embarrassed that disability is used as a justification for pot use. The fact is, there’s no link between having a disability and using pot – and anyone who makes such a connection is simply using disability as an excuse to get high (and, arguably, avoid accountability in living with disability). No, living with disability isn’t always comfortable or ideal; however, it in no way warrants or justifies drug use. I assure you that many of us with disabilities have the self-acceptance and fortitude to live healthy, clear-minded lives, where we look at our peers with disabilities who use pot and call them what they really are: Drug addicts.

My “blunt” position was ranked by readers as the most disliked out of 40 or so arguments for or against legalizing pot – who knew there were so many angry, stoned people with disabilities reading the San Francisco Chronicle? …Based on their angry comments toward my position on the subject, you’d think that I was personally taking away their hash pipes.

However, all was not lost on me in the debate, as one pro-pot reader’s comment addressed to me particularly captured my attention:

Cannabis is used for pain relief, why should people suffer in pain unnecessarily? Do you think that suffering in pain is good for character development?

My answer is a no-nonsense one: Absolutely pain and suffering is good for character development – it’s among the foremost ways that we evolve for the positive as individuals. The fact is, adversity, pain, and suffering are intrinsic parts of human experience, and facing them in healthy ways is not only good for character development, but also strengthens the capacities of our humanity. After all, the only way that we truly develop resilience and fortitude is by facing adversities, not avoiding them. Adversity is like exercise: The more positive effort that we put into facing it, the more developed we become.

Even on seemingly superficial levels, it’s undeniable that adversity, pain, and suffering can serve us in positive ways. When we’re willing to study harder than our peers, we excel in school. When we’re willing to work harder than our colleagues, we excel in our careers. When we’re willing to push our bodies to the limit with exercise, we excel in health. And, all of these are character-building efforts, developing our tenacity and perseverance in spite of the discomfort that they require. In this way, there’s no question that one who avoids any discomfort has a less-developed character than those who expose themselves to hardships in order to live to their fullest potentials.

In a more literal way, there’s no question that embracing any physical pain of disability or illness – not masking or avoiding it – is a key to character development, an evolved skill set that will never fail us. One of my closest friend’s brother, Fran, has been going through among the most intensive cancer treatments, with massive doses of chemo therapy. However, to all of our amazement, he has barely slowed down his activity level, merely working his cancer treatment into his schedule rather than allowing it to dramatically effect his life. In fact, while most people are laid-up in bed, too ill to function at his level of treatment, Fran is out doing most of the activities that he’s always done, including helping others in any ways that he can. Sure, he told me that he feels like hell much of the time; but, he won’t let that get in his way. So, how does Fran defy conventional reaction to cancer treatment, not slowing down when others must, to where he possesses pain management skills that seem to contradict modern medicine’s understanding of it?

The answer is elementary: Some 48 years ago, Fran began building life skills by enduring a level of pain and suffering that very few humans have ever known. See, when Fran was 13, in 1961, working at a gas station, there was an explosion, setting him ablaze. Rather than stopping, dropping, and rolling – the technique that we all know today to extinguish flames – he ran in panic, further spreading the fire, burning his whole upper body, including his face, beyond recognition. A witness finally tackled him, putting out the flames; yet, Fran’s challenges had just begun.

Back in the early 1960s, the treatment methods for severe burn victims weren’t nearly as evolved as they are today. In fact, the post-burn treatment, such as soaked wound dressings, were said to be more painful than the burns, themselves – a striking contrast to such modern practices today as hydrotherapy. So, Fran not only went through the initial trauma of the explosion, but also endured the treatment of burns over his entire upper body, multiple surgeries, permanent disfigurement, and blindness in one eye. Yet, the experience ultimately made him all but unstoppable, going on to have a family and a dedicated career over the past 48 years, overcoming any adversities that he encountered, where he’s also been the go-to guy when anyone needs assistance or a helping hand – everyone just calls Fran.

As Fran proves, and as I’ve personally lived and witnessed time and time again, when we face pain and suffering head on – and when we’re even willing to pursue it when needed – we absolutely develop our character and strengthen our capacity to succeed in life, foundations of tenacity that serve no matter what comes our way. Indeed, we have the capacity to not just endure pain and suffering, but also to embrace it for our betterment.

I’ve never known anyone succeed in life from running from adversities. However, I can show you countless individuals, like Fran, who’ve succeeded by embracing the harshest circumstances with fortitude and perseverance – and true character, of course – where they’ve only become stronger and more successful. The way I see it, those pot-smokers with disabilities can keep at it in California – it’s their own lives they’re wasting. But, for me, I’m following Fran, where I’m glad to reap the life-long rewards of building character through embracing adversity, pain, and suffering. After all, the more we’re willing to endure, the more we’re willing to evolve as individuals.


Author: Mark E. Smith

The literary side of the WheelchairJunkie

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