Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

By Mark E. Smith

Profound life change can be hard and scary. However, do you know what’s even harder and scarier? Acknowledging it to ourselves and others. Yet, when we do, that’s when the most rewarding change occurs.

My wife and I were very fortunate to buy our “forever house.” We’d financially striven toward it, and finding it was a two-year process unto itself. It had to be the right house, at the right location, at the right price – and we nailed it. Then, due to my wheelchair use, we did some remodeling, and my wife made our beautiful home even more beautiful with her design skills. People were kind, and the compliments on our home flowed. By all accounts, we were blessed, and as one who didn’t come from much, I never took a moment of it for granted – I was privileged to own the big yellow house on the hill.

Based on renovations and moving, it was a long process getting into our new home. I was satisfied with the accessibility renovations – although slightly different from my previous home of 15 years – and was eager to move in. As moving day approached, I was as excited as anyone.
Once moved in, however, little felt right to me. Although I’d made accessibility renovations, aspects like using the bathroom was physically different and difficult. I had to learn new ways of doing necessities like using the commode and showering. I found myself working hard to learn and adapt to new ways of doing everyday tasks, and it was physically and emotionally taxing.

My wife was phenomenally supportive toward my physical struggles, but I wasn’t being open about my emotional ones. Even I wasn’t clear on what I was feeling because, on the one hand, I wasn’t longing for my previous house, but I was wondering if this struggle was necessary just to have our dream home? I wasn’t to the point of resentment, but close to it. Every time someone complimented our home, I’d smile and think to myself, This house may look beautiful to you, but it’s wearing on me…. It’s an isolating experience pretending all is perfect when it’s not.

Yet, my wife knew all was not perfect. One night as we got ready for bed, she asked if I thought the house was a mistake based on my struggles? I was open with her and explained that I didn’t think about going backward – that is, I didn’t miss the old house – but I was struggling to move forward. Physically and emotionally, I was struggling with all of the changes in my daily routines. The house and all was great, but I was battling through the process of a profound life change, as with the process of battling to relearn my physical independence in this new environment.

That realization – where I wasn’t struggling with the house, but the process of a profound life change, itself – was a wake-up call. I didn’t need to give the house time; rather, I needed to give myself time. See, that’s a key to a profound life change: we need to allow ourselves to admit that we’re struggling with it, and give ourselves leeway to move through the process. It’s too easy to blame something, or run away, giving up on a situation. Real fortitude comes when we admit we’re struggling with change, and give ourselves time to move through it, succeeding on the other side.

I’m not there yet – the commode transfers are still difficult and intimidating, to name one aspect – but adjusting to profound life changes take time. However, I’ve been through this process before and I’m ultimately comfortable with the intrinsic discomfort. I’m tackling the changes and related emotions as they come, and I’m so looking forward to the last part of this period of change in my life: Summer evenings on the porch, enjoying the breeze passing through the century-old evergreens….

In memory of Dr. Brett Weber, who lived every day like it was Saint Patrick's Day (except for the beer!)

In memory of Dr. Brett Weber, who lived every day like it was Saint Patrick’s Day (except for the beer!)

By Mark E. Smith

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as though you will live forever.”

If today were your last day on Earth, what would you do? The more profound question is, are you doing it?

In my forever learning, I’ve taken to heart both the fragility and power of life. In being a member of and serving those with disabilities, I’ve known many passings. I’ve watched friends die of MS after the span of a decade or more. I’ve had friends with ALS who’ve only lived three years from diagnosis. And, I’ve had friends with quadriplegia who simply didn’t wake up one morning. Even when there seems to be a predictability to death – as with a terminal condition – there’s not. Anyone of us can die at any time, disability, illness or otherwise. And, we do.

Having known so many who have passed away, it’s made me oddly at ease with death. It literally has long been part of my life, just as it’s a part of life, itself. This isn’t to say I’m not heartbroken with each passing, but I’ve learned not to struggle with the reality of death. Grief for me has become less about sadness and more about fond remembrance. My life has been changed by knowing all who have passed, and their wonderful impact on me has never stopped at their passings – it’s carried on with me.

And, there within resides among my greatest life lessons: honor the fragility and power of life, as Gandhi put it, as if we may die tomorrow. What does that really mean, though?

Living as if you were to die tomorrow means deeply recognizing the power in life we all have. For each of us, priorities are a little different, but there are universal truths. Deeply value and express gratitude to those around us by constantly reaching out to our loved ones, friends and strangers alike. Live our dreams now, rather than putting them off. Find beauty and meaning in as many moments as we can, even in the difficult or mundane. Accept what we can’t change, and move on. Have fun! And, as my wise wife puts it, “Every day, do important things.” Life is what we make it, so why not live to a degree that doesn’t just bring joy and meaning into our lives, but to everyone around us?

As for me, I’m not worried about living or dying tomorrow – I’m fine with either fate. I’m just relishing every moment of today. No matter if it’s rain or shine, I’m using my power wheelchair to dance in it all!

maslowshierarchyofneeds-svg

By Mark E. Smith

Abraham Maslow was a well-respected psychologist in the mid 20th century. In 1943, he published a paper in Psychological Review, titled, “A Theory of Human Motivation.” Put simply, Maslow explored what made great people… well… great. However, his research didn’t stop there. Over the next decade, he further studied such “exemplary” individuals, as he coined, as Frederick Douglass, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Albert Einstein. He also studied the top 1% of college students. With this data, he then defined an exact hierarchy of five traits that formed a pyramid, where if you had all of the ideal traits – physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization – you reached the ultimate state of “what a person can be.”

With his “Hierarchy of Needs” pyramid published in 1954, Maslow garnered a lot of attention. It was sort of among the first self-help paths: follow these steps and you, too, can be a fully-evolved, ultra-successful person. Yet, in the 60 years since, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has been questioned. The psychology community agrees there is a hierarchy of needs – breathing obviously comes before love – but many doubt Maslow’s sub-category rankings. For example, does sex come before intimacy, or intimacy before sex, and many argue that Maslow’s hierarchy can vary geographically, from culture to culture. Therefore, there are easily-seen holes in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

As one who’s studied Maslow since college over 25 years ago, I’ve increasingly noted a gap in his pyramid, myself. No, I’m not a psychologist, but one doesn’t need to be in order to understand what we need to be healthy, successful and fulfilled: a sense of purpose.

When we look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, nowhere does he note purpose. Yet, we all know what it’s like to question our purpose, why we’re here, why we do what we do? And, when we have the answer – that is, when we feel a sense of purpose in our lives – it’s the ultimate fulfillment. I’d assert that purpose is as vital as breathing, itself. In fact, in the hospice community, we often hear of those seemingly refusing to pass until their purpose is resolved. A sense of purpose most often defines our lives in the end.

Of course, a sense of purpose is found in endless ways. As parents, striving to do best by our children, it’s impossible not to feel a sense of purpose. In our careers, if we feel that we’re truly making an impact, it gives us a sense of purpose. In our communities, if we serve others, it gives us a sense of purpose. The list goes on and on; however, there is a unifying key to all senses of purpose: we must sincerely feel we’re serving others in some way. This doesn’t mean that we need to win the Nobel Prize for medicine to feel a sense of purpose. Rather, it simply means we must feel that our actions, big or small, serve others. If you walk into a field and shovel snow, at best you’ll just get a workout. However, if you shovel your elderly neighbor’s walkway, you’re guaranteed to feel a sense of purpose.

Purpose is also wonderfully contagious, and we should never be cautious about spreading it – let purpose loose! I recently got wonderfully pulled into a flurry of purpose. A gentleman in our community saw his purpose in collecting clothing for our local men’s shelter. He emailed a single person, and she emailed another, and by the time I was added to the email chain, I was awestruck by so many finding their purpose in the project. There were collection bins being set up, locations secured, and I was like, “Heck yeah, I’ll write the PR for you!” When a purpose bus comes by, get on!

I don’t know where you’re at in your life, but for all of us, a sense of purpose is vital. Sometimes we struggle to find it, and that’s OK – having patience often leads to finding ultimate fulfillment. Sometimes, we have a sense of purpose, then lose it – it happens, and let us take time to rediscover it. And, other times we feel our purpose every day. Purpose isn’t a scorecard, but a journey.

As for Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I’m writing purpose into the bottom tier because I believe it’s absolutely a foundation of our needs in life.

speak-up-quote

By Mark E. Smith

Have you ever thought about the power that fear has in your life? No, I don’t mean a fear such as that of public speaking or bugs or heights – those are all trivial. I’m speaking of fears that truly impact us: the fear to express ourselves to our partners; the fear of expressing vulnerabilities; the fear to truly just be who we are; and other such fears that emotionally stifle us.

And, it’s painful and debilitating, isn’t it? How many of us have been in a marriage or relationship, and have an inexplicable – or, sometimes, rightful – fear of expressing our needs or desires to our partners? We lay in bed at night, feeling alone, and our hearts just ache, don’t they?

Or, how many of us are living with trauma in our past of some kind, and we fear sharing it with anyone? The result is we feel isolated, needing to keep people at arm’s length, don’t we?

Or, how many of us are dissatisfied with our life paths overall, but we fear telling anyone because we don’t want to rock the boat or upset those around us? It leaves us trapped, doesn’t it?

I’ve faced many challenges in my life, but the absolute most difficult has been conquering such deep emotional fears of expression. And, it remains an ongoing process, where bursts of courage have been allowing me to slowly become more and more open over the years – read that, more honest with myself and those around me. I’ve been on a deliberate and liberating path from emotionally fearful to fearless.

In knowing my struggles and progress in this very personal emotional battle, I recently had the privilege of having a friend confide his fear to me. He was diagnosed two years ago with ALS, which has progressed very rapidly, his now using a power wheelchair and losing physical abilities day-by-day till he passes away. However, he’s been the picture of strength, not only for his wife and children, but for his whole community.

Despite his outward portrayal, he shared with me that he’s been keeping a secret, one he fears telling anyone. As I listened, he paused and said just two words: I’m scared.

Everyone handles adversity in his or her own way. However, any reasonable person who’s slowly dying, leaving behind a spouse and children has every reason to be scared. Yet, out of fear of not being “the strong one” that all labeled him as, he was terrified to express his real emotion, not wanting to let others down, as he put it. Meanwhile, he was struggling on this frightening journey internally alone – fear had him trapped within himself.

I asked, if he was to put his fear aside and share those two words – I’m scared – with his wife, how would she react? His answer was breathtaking: I know she’d reply, “I’m scared, too….”

I haven’t learned if he was able to ever have that conversation with his wife, but I hope he did because I trust it would bring them closer together and allow them to be more open in supporting each other in this process. You can’t have genuinely heartfelt conversations as long as you have fear.

See, that’s what overcoming such fear does – it opens us up. Sometimes we receive a positive response to releasing our deepest fears into the world, while other times a disappointing response. However, the reward of expressing ourselves, despite our fears, is in our actions, not the result. The power, for example, in coming out as gay isn’t in seeking approval; rather, it’s about not living in fear of being oneself. This equally applies to no matter what we’re keeping inside. Expression over fear liberates.

What I’ve learned in my own process – from my relationships to my career – is that life is more authentic when I choose to live openly as myself rather than stifled by fear.

wind-in-sails

By Mark E. Smith

If you’ve ever sailed a boat, you know it’s a combination of skill, faith and patience. Life, I’ve learned, is a lot like that, too. Many times, I’ve set a course in my life, where my abilities were only part of the equation, and having faith that it would all work out in the end – like counting on an unpredictable wind, far from landfall – was all I had to trust.

What might surprise you is that trusting in the wind of life has never failed me. As long as I’ve applied myself – like a sailor heading to sea at the helm – the winds of life have always come to carry me on my course. In the process, I’ve learned to be vigilant and have faith and patience – sometimes maintaining seemingly irrational faith and indomitable patience. But, the wind – that wind! – has always ultimately filled my sails.

Sure, I’ve found myself adrift at points in my life. As Coleridge put it in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner,”Water, water, every where / And all the boards did shrink / Water, water, every where / Nor any drop to drink.” We’ve all found ourselves adrift at points in our lives, waiting, wanting, needing a metaphorical wind to fill our sails and set our lives back on course. Maybe it was after a break-up or when we were broke or while looking for a job or, or, or…. When is my life going to get back on track?!

I’ve been there. And, what I’ve learned is that as long as we stay the helm – holding the course with faith and patience – we are never let down. The wind always comes, always fills our sails, and we always reach our destination, our purpose. We may encounter lulls and rough seas, adrift for weeks, months or years; but, eventually – hands blistered from grasping the helm – the wind comes.

For some in life, they never leave port, not wanting any risk. But, they never reach their intended destination, their potential. For others, they lose hope, giving up the ship, likewise never reaching their destination, their life’s purpose. However, for those among us who have vigilance, faith and patience to stay the course, the winds of life will take us to destinations beyond our dreams. All life asks of each of us is to take the helm and trust that the wind – although often unpredictable – will lead us through whatever journey we are meant for….

humility word in mixed vintage metal type printing blocks over grunge wood

humility word in mixed vintage metal type printing blocks over grunge wood

By Mark E. Smith

A friend told me how she knew her fiancé was originally the right guy for her. They pulled up to a grocery store in his car, and she insisted that he go in alone. He never shopped without her and found her insistence odd. Upon his wondering what was going on, she burst into tears, explaining that due to her paralysis and related bladder control issues, she’d wet her pants.

She shared with me that, in the moment, she felt so embarrassed and humiliated, and didn’t know how he’d respond? After all, they’d only been dating a short time.

He hugged her, told her it was alright, then leaned back in his seat, closed his eyes and hummed. She asked what he was doing, and he explained that he was wetting his pants, too, so they could be together in the moment. They both burst out laughing.

What my friend’s story illustrates is what we all need in our lives and relationships, regardless of disability: humility and humor. Truly, if you can live just in that space – with humility and humor – you can gracefully move through even the most awkward of life’s moments.

So often we fall into modes of pride, perfectionism and self-consciousness, and everyone is defeated by it. Perfection in life is a myth, and when we fight against that reality – clinging to false senses of Pride – we and those around us lose. The destructive emotions range from feeling shame to pushing others away.

Yet, when we’re humble and acknowledge that we all have vulnerabilities, and have the capacity to laugh at ourselves in the most trying times, that’s when we’re most receptive and endearing to others. After all, empathy binds two people, and when you can build that connection with humility and humor, in life’s awkward moments, it’s arguably the healthiest approach to such circumstances.

Now, I’m not saying that wetting your pants will lead to true love – although apparently it can. What I’m saying is that living our lives with humility and humor, in spite of adversity, opens us up to others, and them to us. So, let us pass on pride and portrayals of perfection, and find humility and humor in who we are – wet pants and all.

Gratitude rock

By Mark E. Smith

My life has been somewhat extraordinary in that I’ve known both sides of human experience – that is, what it’s like to live with exceptional adversity versus what it’s like to experience great fortune.

However, while my own life has made me acutely aware of extremes, it’s the individuals I encounter that have raised a profound question for me. In parts of my life, I interact with those facing tremendous adversity, while in others, I interact with those of great fortune. Overall, I’ve witnessed that people are people, and no matter how different two individuals’ life paths are, there’s a uniting humanity – people are people.

Yet, I’ve also witnessed a juxtaposition that’s intrigued me. If I shared that I knew a 40-year-old mother with progressing ALS who was bitter at the world because she would not live to see her children graduate high school, we all could empathize with her. On the other hand, if I shared that I knew a 40-year-old mother of great health and wealth who was dedicated to serving her community, we could empathize with her, as well. In both these scenarios, we could say that both women are doing the best that they can. And, indeed, in some form, I’ve known these women – and likewise men in the same situations – many times over.

But, here’s where the intriguing juxtaposition comes in. I similarly meet those facing tremendous adversity – literally that 40-year-old mother dying of ALS – who approaches every day with grace and joy, appreciative regardless of the devastating blow life has dealt. Meanwhile, I encounter those who are extremely fortunate – with health and wealth and thriving lives – who are bitter, jaded, living with a miserable sense of entitlement, as if the world owes them. How is it, then, that someone facing unimaginable adversity in life can live with such grace, while by contrast, I’ve more than once witnessed someone of great health and wealth throw a tantrum over the smallest, most trivial circumstance? How can this juxtaposition logically occur?

The answer is, gratitude. See, gratitude is the great equalizer – and you have it or you don’t. If you have it, it’s irrelevant what your situation is in life, as you’re grateful regardless of any circumstance. However, if you don’t have gratitude, you’ll conversely be bitter and jaded no matter how fortunate your plight. In this way, what life deals us has no bearing on our outlook – unimaginable adversity or great fortune are of no matter. What dictates our perspectives is whether we have… gratitude.

Author Melody Beattie writes, “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend….”

Therefore, if we are to understand the true origins of fulfillment in our lives and whether we find true contentment, we don’t need to weigh the scales of adversity versus good fortune. Rather, to understand fulfillment and contentment in our lives, we merely need to consider the levels of sincere gratitude we possess.