Posts Tagged ‘accepting love’

By Mark E. Smith

It was the sickest I’d ever been. In a matter of days, I went from the masculinity of a mid-forties man to the physical dependence of an infant. A corner was turned, and I was in unknown, uncontrolled territory.

Living with a disability may seem unique, as with my cerebral palsy, but there’s an equilibrium to it. Yes, there are limitations inherent to my disability that require assistance from my wife in personal ways that we’re both comfortable with. But, we all have discreetness and self-consciousness boundaries. In fact, such boundaries seemingly help us define our own sense of masculinity or femininity. Put simply, we say, I’m comfortable with having my spouse see me this way, but can’t imagine ever being comfortable seen in XYZ circumstance. These boundaries vary from person to person, couple to couple, including among my wife and me.

In my time of need and illness, I had no choice but to give up such preconceived boundaries. My wife was there, willing and able to help. I had to accept it based on my illness. I had no choice but to remove my constructed boundaries.

Often, we look at those jumping in to help as the strong ones, and they are. However, as I continue learning, it takes tremendous strength to let others in to help. However, when we do, it takes us to far deeper levels of connection and love. Boundaries can be great, but self-constructed ones of self-consciousness – which all of us have in some forms – can serve as walls that prevent us from getting closer to others and letting others fully know us. For me, sick in bed, totally dependent upon my wife, I realized not just her unyielding love and devotion, but how letting down my own guard allowed me to more fully immerse in our love.

All of this got me thinking, why does it take such extreme circumstances for us to allow ourselves to remove our boundaries, to further trust in love? Why do we cling so tightly to self-consciousness that it prevents us from fully opening ourselves to others?

Of course, the answer is, vulnerability. By nature our biggest fear, admit it or not, is rejection by those we love. Sure, we open ourselves up to love, but most often we have a last-ditch protection mechanism that prevents us from going all in – that is, we hold back in a few areas. However, if we’re being prudent and healthy in our relationship, there’s zero risk, so holding back simply holds us back. It shouldn’t take a situation like a serious illness to forego self-consciousness and fully trust in the deepest forms of love. Here’s all of me for you to love, and I cherish having all of you to love….

Trusting fully in deep love is tricky. It can expose our vulnerabilities, require us to face them, and then let them go, all of which is scary. However, when we do so, we create a pathway to loving and being loved that’s deeper and safer than we’ve ever known. Love is always uncharted territory, and allowing ourselves to follow it to greater and greater depths is life’s most miraculous journey.

freehug

By Mark E. Smith

Every night at 10:00 pm, I flip through the cable news channels. With redundant sound bites and flashing scenes – not to mention partisan political rhetoric – I’m told what a terrible world I live in. If I am to believe them, my life in every fathomable way is on the brink of disaster – and so is yours. If texting drivers and terrorists don’t kill us, our jobs will be downsized and exported, and our children will end up on heroin. But, then they go on to note that if we make one wrong vote, we will lose civil liberties and nuclear proliferation will usher in World War III. However, none of this matters because whatever the latest virus is, it’s likely to kill us before all else.

This is how the news media portrays our world night after night. Yet, day after day, my life – the world we share – couldn’t be more different. As one with a severe physical disability, the world of intolerance portrayed by the media that we live in should place me drowning in the bottom of a cruel socio-economic barrel. Yet, I’m not – and, in fact, my world, your world, our world couldn’t be more different than the distorted, sensationalism hyperbole spewed by make-up-strewn talking heads on cable news.

What 45 years of disability experience has proved to me is the truth of humanity. People are kind, accepting, embracing and tolerant. We know that we’re all in this together, and while my adversity is an obvious physical one, we all have known adversity, and it’s among the bonds that unites us. We all want to love and be loved, and as my career has taken me to countless cities and towns across this country, every where I’ve been has demonstrated one universal trait: kindness.

As one with a severe disability, who speaks and looks differently than others, who must turn to strangers for assistance in situations, who flies on planes and lands in cities, I see none of the harsh, cruel world portrayed by the media. I see the flight attendant offer to walk with me through the airport to ensure I find my shuttle van. I see the shuttle van driver insist on tying my shoe. I see hotel clerks ensure all I need is taken care of. I see waitresses intuitively move everything where I can reach it. I see individuals homeless say words of blessing to me. I see strangers in stores, restaurants, everywhere, share the kindest words and hug me.

I don’t know where the media gets its soundbites and images of the bleak world it portrays. But, if they followed me for an hour, in any city in this great country, they’d see the truth: the kindness of the world around us is awe-inspiring. Turn off the TV and get out into it.

forgive

By Mark E. Smith

Among the hardest endeavors of the heart we ever make is to forgive – ourselves.

Although we live with the best of intentions, with tremendous purpose, we’re bound to make mistakes. When we’re on top of our game, the mistakes are small – maybe no one notices but us. However, when we’re not so mindful of how our actions effect ourselves and others, the mistakes can be life-altering, not just for us, but for those we love. In both cases, making mistakes can weigh on us like an anchor, keeping us submerged in shame, guilt, and self-doubt. In a way, we lose trust in ourselves, just as we imagine others lose trust in us.

However, the fact is, while those who care about us and love us are typically very forgiving, the person who most often takes the longest to forgive our mistakes is oneself. Shame and guilt are powerful emotions, not easily shaken. Yet, if we are to move beyond our mistakes, we must truly forgive ourselves. It’s not just the ultimate in humility, but also accountability.

See, when we refrain from self-forgiveness, we’re holding on to our mistake, like carrying a boulder everywhere we go. But, there’s no corrective action involved, just self-punishment. In contrast, in order to forgive ourselves, we have to deeply acknowledge our mistake and grow to trust in ourselves that we won’t make that mistake again. We must allow ourselves to give into ultimate humility. We must allow ourselves to accept ultimate accountability. Those acts of honesty and courage are the cornerstones of self-forgiveness.

Author Stephan Richards writes about self-forgiveness, “When you initially forgive, it is like letting go of a hot iron. There is initial pain and the scars will show, but you can start living again.”

In this way, the ultimate mistake we can make in life is not to offer forgiveness – to ourselves.

NM_iLevelMark_July16.indd

By Mark E. Smith

My wife and I have slowly become a poster couple – literally. And, we’ve been blessed that so many have found inspiration not just in the one iconic image, but the life we lead, commonly shared on social media, as is the way of the world nowadays.

However, we’re truly not a poster couple. No couple is. Who we are, are two unique individuals who love each other deeply, but face the challenges that every married couple faces. I note this because being the poster image of anything can be a trap all the way around.

I look at our life in ads or online, and realize that we’re doing well. And, it’s all true. However, what’s not reflected is the rest of the story – life is messy sometimes. We have a 19-year-old in college, a 7-year-old with special needs, a dog, and a house. The tuition bills for the 19-year-old never end, the 7-year-old struggles to sleep through the night, and the dog likes to eat grass and vomit on the new carpet. To top it off, our house doesn’t clean itself. Your life may not look a lot like ours publicly, but if you step in our house, chances are that our life is a lot like yours – from balancing finances, to caring for kids, to stressing over laundry, to trying not to lose your cool because the dog ate food off of the table again. And, it’s really hard to be romantic when the day has worn you down.

No, life isn’t a poster image. Rather, life is a mirror image – and there’s beauty in that. Some mornings, as my wife and I are scrambling to get ready, usually running late with all of the chaos, we’ll look in the big dresser mirror together – half dressed, hair uncombed, morning wrinkles emphasized by the sunlight – and we just laugh at what a mess we are.

See, what I’ve learned is that perfection – or the illusion thereof – doesn’t make a true marriage. What makes a true marriage is when you acknowledge how messy it all really is – and still smile at it.

kermit

By Mark E. Smith

If you look back at the GOP primaries of 2016, an interesting dynamic occurred at one point. There were two candidates – Marco Rubio and Donald Trump – with very different dispositions. Rubio was historically one of a positive message, while Trump was much more aggressive. And, both personalities had their place, per voters. Some were drawn to Rubio’s personality, while others were drawn to Trump’s.

Going into the Florida primary, the state was arguably up for grabs. It was Rubio’s home state, giving a candidate typically an advantage, but Trump, a known businessman in Florida, had very strong poll numbers.

However, the week of the primary, a lot changed. While Trump stayed with his aggressive messaging, Rubio made an abrupt change with his. To supporters’ dismay, Rubio went from his typical messaging to very aggressive, Trump-like messaging. And, it contributed to costing Rubio the primary.

See, voters wanted the Marco Rubio they’d always known, not a candidate who suddenly engaged in Trump-like aggressive rhetoric. By all accounts, Rubio becoming someone he wasn’t proved a catastrophic mistake.

Of course, there were a lot of other dynamics – some going back years – that cost Rubio Florida, but by most political observers’ accounts, his trying to be someone he wasn’t in the final week was the tipping point for Rubio’s loss.

The whole situation reminds me of our personal lives, how miserably we fail when we try to be someone we’re not – and worse yet, the toll it takes on us.

Outwardly, we can seem ridiculous in trying to be someone we’re not. A buddy of mine is one of the kindest, most sincere guys you’ll ever meet – the kind of gentleman many women would fall for in an instant. But, he has it in his head that he has to be a “cool player” when it comes to meeting the ladies, transforming into a cologne-drenched show-off who’s… well… ridiculous. The female friends in our circle have told him the simple truth: being yourself attracts others, not trying to be a studly caricature.

When we’re outwardly trying to be someone we’re not, we mostly risk embarrassment – or not getting dates in my buddy’s case! However, when we’re trying to be someone we’re not on the inside, it’s painful at best, self-defeating at worst. When I began dating my wife, I put my best foot forward, but I also vowed to myself – and ultimately her – that I wasn’t going to hold any aspect of myself back. If she fell in love with me, great. But, if any aspect of who I am chased her away, it would be my loss, but at least I was honest in the process. Nowadays, when we’re in the kitchen and I’m admittedly letting my twisted sense of humor fly, sometimes to her dismay, I have the ultimate defense, “You knew who you were marrying!”

Imagine, though – or maybe you’re there now – how painful it is not to be able to fully express yourself out of fear of rejection by those you love. Think about what it’s like to be in a family dynamic or relationship where you don’t feel safe expressing who you truly are. We know clinically that when we keep aspects of our identity bottled up, rates of depression, low self-esteem, substance abuse, and even suicide all skyrocket. Not being ourselves can literally be dangerous. Marco Rubio lost an election; but, Tyler Clementi lost his life when he jumped off of the George Washington bridge due to the shame he felt from being outed as gay.

None of this need be – and it’s a two way street. We must have the courage to just be ourselves, and we likewise must create an interpersonal dynamic where we welcome others to be themselves. In living such an open life, just think of how easy, comfortable and fulfilling it all becomes, where you can just be you. A Chinese proverb puts it best: Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are….

OUR_STORIES

By Mark E. Smith

When I entered San Francisco State University’s creative writing program some two decades ago, I did so with one goal in mind – to be a better writer. After all, writing is a technical craft – not unlike painting or music – and if you want to get better at the craft, you expand your skill set. And, I wanted to possess the largest skill set possible so that, as a writer, I could write about virtually any topic, in any form. If writing was carpentry, I wanted the skills to build anything.

Upon my first week in the program, I realized it wasn’t what I expected. The fact was, I quickly learned that the true craft of writing wasn’t about technical skills at all. Yes, as students, we’d long learned the formalities of writing, with more to come. However, what we were there to really learn was the power and universal impact of stories. We learned what it was like to be impoverished and black in the south under Jim Crow laws through Alice Walker. We learned what it was like being a disenfranchised white, middle-aged male through Charles Bukowski. And, we learned what it was like to be a teenage heroin addict through Jim Carol. The stories went on and on, and we learned that every one has a story – ones of universal impact. We learned that writing wasn’t just about a skill set, but more so a deep acknowledgment of the human condition we all share.

As students, we were required to write with courage and vulnerability, to share our stories. Writing workshops, where you critique each others’ pieces, were cathartic, safe places where we could write and share the stories in our lives. The beautiful twenty-something who seemed to have it all wrote about her struggles with self harm, cutting her thighs with razor blades. The silent guy in the army surplus jacket wrote about being raped in his high school locker room by three jocks. And the happy-go-lucky, surfer dude wrote about living on friends’ couches because he was disowned by his parents when he came out as gay. What it taught us was that everyone had a story – including ourselves – and the true craft of writing isn’t just about telling stories, but honoring them.

During that time, my twenties, I was struggling with a lot. I was trying to understand my identity as one with severe cerebral palsy, and struggling with the guilt of separating myself farther and farther from my dysfunctional family. When we go through these periods of our lives – deep emotional struggles – it’s impossible to not feel alone. It’s unfortunately intrinsic to the process. Yet, our individual struggles – read that, stories – are universal to the human condition, and whatever we’re feeling or have experienced, we’re not alone.

What I gained from attending the two-year creative writing program – and writing of my struggles in the process – was recognizing the importance and vulnerability in sharing our stories, as well as embracing those of others. While there’s a time and a place for light conversation, it’s in sharing our stories that truly connects us.

Since that time, not the writer in me, but the person in me, has lived a life of connecting with others – through stories. Of course, I’ve shared mine countless times, as cerebral palsy can’t be hidden and understandably can become a topic. However, what’s shaped my life are the stories that others – with trust, courage and vulnerability – have shared with me. See, I’ve learned that no one’s story is more or less significant than another, just different. And, we intrinsically relate to them all. Pain, joy, sadness, fear, courage, failure, success, heartache, love, guilt, pride, resentment, elation, self-doubt, confidence and on and are all emotions that we universally share. They unite us.

However, sharing our stories does more than unites us. The process has far more power. Sharing our stories can heal, uplift, inspire, empower, and most of all the process shows us we’re not alone.

I don’t know what your story is. Maybe it’s one you’re struggling with alone. Or, maybe it’s a story that can help another person in your situation. Share your story. Let it out to someone, somewhere, in a safe place, where I promise it will change both your lives. None of us need to be writers to be courageous and vulnerable in sharing our stories. We just need to be ourselves.

Mark_9695

By Mark E. Smith

Imagine your basketball team is tied at the ending of a game, seconds from the final buzzer. You’re standing at the opposite end of the court, and the ball comes to you. What do you do with it?

Most players dribble, hold or pass the ball as the buzzer times out. After all, what can be accomplished at the buzzer, an entire court away from the basket?

My answer every time in life is to take a leap of faith in our talent, luck and what’s meant to be, and throw the ball as high and hard as we can across the entire court, toward the basket – because there’s a chance it will go in. When we have nothing to lose and everything to gain, go for the longshot every time.

I was writing an article a few years ago on pediatric wheelchair use, and I called the mother of a little girl in Southern California for an interview. We’d met a year or so earlier at an event I attended in L.A. on business, and we were linked through Facebook.

When I called her for the interview, I only had one thing on my mind – the interview. However, she was so engaging and wonderful to talk with. We ended up speaking the next eve, then the next, then the next. I quickly realized this woman was amazing, having it all: outer beauty, humor, intellect, compassion, you name it.

But, by all accounts, she was out of my league, though. If anyone objectively looked at the reality of the situation, I was at the wrong end of the basketball court to have any chance of making a basket. I was a single dad with cerebral palsy living in rural Pennsylvania. Why would a gorgeous high-end optician and artist living in San Diego even entertain me as a potential love interest?

However, as I fell for her, I turned to the one trait that’s always got me to new heights in my life: I went for the seemingly impossible longshot. I put my heart out there with nothing to lose and everything to gain. You might say I threw the longest basket in history – from Pennsylvania to California – and it miraculously swooshed the net. Yet, while making a full-court basket only lasts for one game, my now wife and our marriage is for a lifetime.

Life is going to put us at the end of the court from time to time. When we’re blessed, a ball comes our way. And, when the ball comes to us, we can pass or we can trust in ourselves and fate, throwing the ball as high and hard as we can toward the basket. No, it won’t go in every time – it hasn’t for me. But, when it does, it changes our lives forever.