Don’t be Fooled by a Cereal Box

By Mark E. Smith

Cereal sales have been on the decline. I’m okay with that – especially, Wheaties. I should clarify, I have nothing against the cereal, itself. In fact, I rather like it. However, the Wheaties box has been synonymous with having the spirit of a champion, regardless of the adversity one faces, and it propagates a flawed mindset.

More and more, we seem a just-get-over-it culture. No matter how extreme an adversity we face, many feel that we should just get over it. And, if we can, we’re celebrated for it, our picture on a metaphorical Wheaties box.

Yet, it completely contradicts how most of us move through adversity in healthy ways. Addressing adversity is progressive movement, but it’s not without personal peril. Ideally, we do make progress every day. But, it’s unrealistic to expect us not to have bad days and experience real emotions – negative and painful – in the process. Life can get brutal, and in those moments, it’s natural to feel beat up and defeated. In fact, it’s vital. We can’t begin getting up unless we’re willing to admit that we’ve been knocked down.

During these times, we need a specific type of person with us. It’s neither someone who lays beside us in defeat, nor someone who tells us to just get over it. Rather, we need someone who understands that the path through adversity is progressive, but not linear. We need someone who knows how brutal life can feel, that it should in those moments, but also knows the importance of moving through them.

Put simply, during the toughest times in our lives, we need those around us who understand that facing adversity isn’t summarized on a Wheaties box.


This Day

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!

Bus Stop at Purpose Ave.


By Mark E. Smith

Think about the most genuinely happy, joyful person you know. I have no way of knowing that person, but I certainly can tell you all about him or her. His or her smile lights up a room. He or she is totally comfortable in his or her own skin. He or she doesn’t worry about trivial aspects in life. He or she is one of great comfort to others in an especially unique way. And, he or she is slowly but surely changing the world for the better. Who is this individual?

The answer is, it’s a person living to his or her purpose. See, when we live with purpose, it’s impossible not to be happy and successful. After all, in living with purpose, you know the value of your life, the positive ways you impact others – directly or indirectly – and how you change their lives for the better. Most importantly, you recognize the value of others, and strive to meet their needs with your unique abilities.

For some, their purpose seems obvious. A police officer protects citizens. A comedian makes people laugh. An emergency room nurse saves lives. However, for the rest of us, finding or recognizing our purpose can be less obvious.

I recently had this talk with my 18-year-old daughter: how do we know our purpose? An even more challenging question is – and it’s one of the toughest in humanity, an age-old inner-struggle – do I even have a purpose?

As one who feels tremendous purpose in my life, I thought a lot about what core questions does my daughter – or any of us! – need to find and understand our purpose?

And, so I gave my daughter some questions to ask of herself:

Who am I?
What am I passionate about?
How do I effect other people?
What do others need from me?
How can my everyday actions better other’s lives?

For me, the answer is easy. I have cerebral palsy and in understanding the liberation of mobility and independence, my purpose is in helping others achieve those vital aspects in their own lives. As a result, at the end of each day, I feel the privilege of having a tangible sense of purpose in my life.

Based in New York, Rick Guidotti is among the top fashion photographers in the world. In the 1990s, he photographed those who were deemed the most beautiful women on Earth. Then, in 1998, at a bus stop, he encountered a teenage girl with albinism. In a world that can see such conditions as strange, Rick saw beauty, and as he embarked from there to taking photos of those who weren’t known as conventionally beautiful like the models he shot for Vogue and such, he found a turning point in his life: his purpose. See, through Rick’s photos, he not only raises the esteem of his photographed subjects – many seeing their own beauty for the first time, the camera serving as the ultimate mirror of truth – but his photos have also captured the attention of the top magazines and galleries, dramatically improving society’s perception of not just those with disabilities, but also the truth that we’re all beautiful.

Rick knows who he is, what he’s passionate about, what others need from him, and how his actions change their lives. He’s a man living with purpose.

I don’t know where you are in your life, but I l know that you, too, have great purpose. Maybe you know your purpose and know the joy that comes with it. Or, maybe you’re trying to discover your purpose. Think about who you are, what you’re passionate about, what others need from you, and how your actions can change their lives. And, live it with everything you have.