Recognizing Who’s Perfect

By Mark E. Smith

I truly believe that those I love are absolutely perfect. And, I tell them so, from the depth of my heart.

See, when I say that those I love are absolutely perfect to me, it doesn’t mean “perfection;” rather, it means their being true to oneself and others. Those I love aren’t without flaws or character idiosyncrasies. However, in my eyes, there’s nothing that they need to change or that I want to change about them. They’re perfect.

So often – and I’ve fallen into this trap in my past– we see all of the traits we want to change in our loved ones. At our worst, we may overlook 97% of the amazing qualities in our loved ones and fixate on the 3% that we disagree with. Even worse is when we vocalize our dislikes, especially to our loved ones, themselves. There’s few worse blows than criticism from a loved one.

I’ve also heard friends complain about their amazing spouses and children, all because they’re overlooking the greater good in them. Why bring this negativity into our lives and those we love?

The alternative is to see how perfect our loved ones truly are. Again, my wife and daughters don’t embody literal perfection – none of us do. However, there’s nothing about them that I want to change. They are… well… perfect.

This isn’t to say that we should view all by such a way. It truly must be earned. I loved my mother, but I rightfully disagreed with the life she lived as an alcoholic. I never saw her as “perfect” and I would have been insane not to have wished much of her to change. But, if we have those in our life who are remarkable individuals, what’s to change? And, why look for aspects to change?

The answer is, there’s no good reason. It’s petty and self-defeating. Our loved ones deserve better, just as we don’t need to create problems where there are no problems. Seeing those we love as rightfully “perfect” is the ultimate form of acceptance and love, and extending it to those who matter most to us elevates our relationships.

Therefore, the next time your spouse or children irk you a bit, maybe take a moment and ask yourself if it’s truly a problem or are they just earning their way into your heart as perfect?


The Most Sacred Trust


By Mark E. Smith

Every week, I take a leap of faith on this blog and write essays that are often very personal and expose vulnerabilities about myself that I know can range from liberating to uncomfortable for readers. Yet, there’s a deep meaning and purpose to it all. Firstly, as a formally-trained writer, I was taught that if you’re truly going to write, you owe it to yourself and your reader to write with unflinching courage, to expose that which others may not dare, all in the name of integrity – the best writing is fearless and scary all at once. Secondly, there’s such power in universal experience, where if through sharing my own vulnerabilities I can help someone else embrace his or hers, realizing that none of us are alone in life’s challenges, that’s a tremendous privilege. I write to connect, and that demands unflinching honesty, candor and authenticity.

However, here’s what might surprise you: I don’t believe that this unyielding, wide-open form of trust should be practiced in our personal lives. The fact is, whether a child or a so-called hardened criminal, there’s a fragility within all of us – our inner-most vulnerabilities. And, they aren’t to be trusted with just anyone. We’re too valuable to risk handing over our emotions to those who may not honor, respect or deserve them.

Many of us know a lot of people, many of whom we call family and friends. For me, I can’t even count how many people I know. All are wonderful people. Yet, if you think about your own friends and family – as I do mine – how many have truly earned your trust to possess the capacity to treat your deepest vulnerabilities with the safety and security you deserve?

Chances are, not many. Unfortunately, we’ve often learned this in the most painful ways. We’ve shared our most vulnerable selves with someone, only to have that person attempt to hurt us with it later in scorn or judgement at the most opportune – make that, malicious – of times. True family and friends don’t use our vulnerabilities against us. Rather, true family and friends treat our vulnerabilities as sacred, those which are to be addressed with compassion, empathy and support.

So, how do we know with whom our deepest vulnerabilities are safe? For most of us, it’s a tiny fraction of those who we know, maybe only one or two people. And, the litmus test can take time, often years. See, true trust isn’t assumed; it’s earned, piece by piece. You share a little, see how that’s handled by someone over time, and if it’s honored, you share a little more, until ultimate trust is earned. Along the way, let us not be guarded, but aware, as if we witness the slightest violation of trust, it’s a sign to put on the emotional brakes and realize that person may be a loved family member or great friend, but not one who we can trust in our most sacred places – again, that’s reserved for those who’ve earned it.

By far the toughest practices of setting boundaries of who’s earned the privilege of being trusted with our deepest vulnerabilities is in romantic relationships because the emotions are so intense and the stakes are so high. In our desire to love and be loved, it’s far too easy to dismiss violations of our vulnerabilities. He only said it out of anger during our argument…. No, there’s never a reason or excuse to use someone’s vulnerabilities against him or her. That’s not love, its betrayal – and that never makes for a relationship you deserve. I married my wife for a lot of wonderful reasons, but the big one was our mutually-earned trust. Sure, we get mad and frustrated with each other, but we know that each other’s vulnerabilities are the sacred boundary line that we respect above all else. I’m also blessed that this ultimate sacred trust holds true with both my oldest daughter and my lifelong best friend.

When it comes to our vulnerabilities, let us seek comfort in others – it’s healing for the soul. However, let us likewise know that our vulnerabilities shouldn’t be entrusted to anyone except those worthy of respecting and cherishing such a gift. See, when it comes to ultimate trust, it’s quality, not quantity, that serves our heart.

Now That’s Sexy


By Mark E. Smith

Let’s talk about sexy! This conversation started for me about a year ago when I asked my lifelong best friend – both of us wheelchair users – about whether he was observing what I was: there seemed a sudden shift where many of our peers with disabilities were now in amazing relationships. “When did disability become the new sexy?” I asked.

There have always been cultural stigmas around disability and sexuality – the most historic and inaccurate being that those with disabilities are asexual, that sexuality doesn’t exist within the disability realm. Further adding to this is the totally inaccurate message in society at large that physical perfection directly correlates with sex appeal – that is, the better looking you are, the more sexually desirable you are.  Now, we know in our progressive culture that neither of these are true. However, here’s the question: if we know that imperfect physicality doesn’t deter sex appeal, what then actually drives sex appeal?

The science is in, and the results are encouraging for the 99% of us who aren’t supermodels. While most might say a big bosom or bulging biceps are what people find sexy, the true factors are far more complex and equalizing according to researchers.

Firstly, people find integrity sexually appealing – which makes sense because healthy people aren’t attracted to those who aren’t forthright. The deeper the trust, the purer the attraction.

Secondly, people find a smile and eye contact totally sexually appealing. Admit it, when you’re checking out at the grocery store and the checker glances up at you with eye contact and a smile as he or she runs your V8 juice across the scanner, you’re like, “Was that a flirt?” and it feels awesome. So, imagine when someone at a cocktail party smiles and makes eye contact from across the room – that’s hot! And, if you’re the one doing it, you’re hot! And, if two of you are doing it with each other, it might be time to find a closet – the coat closet, that is, where you can exit the party and go have great conversation over coffee (what did you think I was implying?)

Thirdly, wit and humor are huge turn-ons. Wit and humor make us fun, engaging, grounded, disarming, comfortable and charming. Seriousness is like rain: it’s great as needed, but you don’t want to live with it every day. Wit and humor is the warmth and sunshine that draws others to us.

Fourthly, intelligence is seen as very sexually appealing. Intelligent people both make us feel more secure and stimulate us mentally and emotionally – and that’s sexy. People who demonstrate poor judgement aren’t those who attract others. Act with intelligence; be sexy!

Fifthly, compassion is exceptionally sexually appealing – it ties into deep biological reproductive drivers, where we’re compelled toward people who nurture. It’s a huge turn-on when your partner recognizes and addresses your needs, and you, his or hers.

Last, but not least, people find confidence ultra sexy – bring in the alpha! Now, arrogance shouldn’t be confused with confidence. There’s nothing sexy about a narcissist. However, confident people are cool, calm, collected, in control, comfortable in their skin – and who isn’t attracted to someone with such composure? Just be you; that’s confident and that’s sexy.

Now, the fact is, I haven’t shared anything that you don’t know – and researchers on this subject aren’t rocket scientists. Yet, it proves a powerful point for all of us: sex appeal ultimately doesn’t stem from the body, but the brain. And, if your brain demonstrates integrity, knows how to flash a smile, can make someone laugh, demonstrates intelligence and compassion, and is absolutely comfortable in who you are, well then you are exuding sex appeal wherever you go, a love magnet!

Did I just catch you smiling at me?

Learning to Love to Capacity


By Mark E. Smith

Currently, with tremendous strain, I can bench press 210 lbs. one rep. But, I don’t. Instead, three days per week, I bench press 120 lbs. 20 reps, then I drop to 100 lbs. and bench press another 20 reps. Guys all boast how much they can bench press one rep because it sounds impressive. However, it’s truly a specious exercise – they’re not building endurance or true fitness because they’re only doing it once, lifting beyond their real capacity. Me, I choose to lift less weight at higher reps because I want to build meaningful fitness to my genuine capacity.

It’s a lesson from the gym that’s even more important in our relationships. We should only represent ourselves to our truest capacities, as well as recognize the true capacities in our partners. Otherwise, relationships fail and people get hurt.

All of us mean well going into relationships. We put our best self forward and we see only the best in our love interest. Yet, it’s so easy to get caught up in that which we’re not. We want to be what the other person seeks, and we want him or her to be what we seek. And, it all works perfectly – that is, till we realize one or both of us are beyond our capacities. It’s like my bench pressing 210 lbs. I can do it once to impress, but I can’t sustain that level. If you want the real me, I bench press 120 lbs. really well.

In relationships it’s vital that we know our true capacities from the start, adhere to them, and truly recognize our love interest’s capacities. It’s just being honest, and when we do this, it dramatically reduces the odds of someone getting hurt.

Yet, it’s tough to do. It’s so hard because ideals don’t always align with reality. What we want in a relationship can be the antithesis of what we’re capable of. There are classic examples we all can relate with. Someone wants a relationship, but makes no time for it. Someone wants a relationship, but is emotionally still buried in a past one. Someone wants a relationship, but doesn’t have the emotional health to cultivate it. We’ve all done this, experienced this or witnessed this – and it only results in pain.

Bishop T.D. Jakes talks about the importance of realizing our capacities for love and how they vary based on who we are and what we’ve been through. He uses the metaphor that if we’re 10-gallon people looking to be filled with love, we’re never going to be filled by someone who only has an ounce to offer. By the same token, if we only have an ounce to offer, that’s fine, but let’s know that we can’t promise to give more than we have. There’s no right answer, just an honest one.

In this way, we must approach a relationship with accountability on our part, and clarity toward our partner’s capacities. We may want a certain type of relationship, but are we capable of it, and are we being honest and fair to our partner? And, are we able to view our partner with clarity, ensuring he or she is capable of the relationship?

The key to this is utter honesty and following our instincts. If we overextend our capacities in any way, it never feels right, and we have an obligation to stop it or, ideally, be authentic enough not to do it in the first place. Similarly, if our partner’s words are contradicted by actions or circumstances, don’t overlook that. Recognize each other’s true capacities and respect them because if you don’t, someone will get hurt.

Now, this isn’t psycho babble or new-age psychology, but common-sense life experience. I’ve been on both sides, as many of us have. I’ve tried to be someone who I wasn’t, and it didn’t work. And, I’ve overlooked signs in others that I shouldn’t have. There was no ill will in any of it, just intentions wishful beyond our capacities. What I learned in the process, though, is that there’s ultimate joy in being authentic in acknowledging both our own true capacities. Maybe the relationship will reveal itself as soul mates or prove unrealistic. It’s the variables of love. But, the beauty in being authentic in our capacities is that we have the honesty, authenticity and courage to just be us.

The Effort of Faith


By Mark E. Smith

When I look at the three biggest challenges that have spanned my adulthood – writing, disability and romance – there’s a common denominator that forever keeps me pushing forward during both highs and lows: Faith.

Now, I don’t mean faith in religious terms – although, many people do, and that’s great. Rather, faith for me is belief, it’s an innate understanding that no matter what I face, I will pull through ultimately to my own betterment – that is, the light will be brighter at the end of each tunnel.

Faith for me, however, doesn’t function on its own. Faith directly correlates with effort. When I was in my early 20s as a young writer, my rejection ratio by magazine editors was around 20 to 1. For several years, my mail box was a literal daily dose of rejection, seemingly indisputable proof that I was failing as a writer. Yet, I simply had faith and I used all of that rejection as inspiration. I knew I wanted to write and I had faith that I could make it as a writer, so I put effort behind my faith and went to college to learn formalities and hone my craft. It’s taken over two decades, but my closet shelves are now lined with over 1,000 formal publications that I’ve been published in, plus all of my books and countless essays from the web. I went from spending my days seemingly writing for the sake of rejection to now editors offer me assignments. The factor of success has been having faith that I could be what I believed, and then applying the effort to become that success.

Disability and romance in my life have followed the same faith-based path. At many points individuals, situations and society have told me that I’m lesser, that I couldn’t achieve based on my disability. But, my faith has ultimately had the final vote. Dismiss me or count me out, but my faith assures that in the end, with effort, I will overcome. I may face challenges, but my faith dictates that I will succeed in the end in spite of them.

Of course, the struggle to find enduring love is a universal, epic one. Think about the canon of literature, art, music and movies that address our desire for enduring love. And, I’ve faced that struggle, too. Yet, I’ve had faith that as long as I live my best, with effort and awareness, enduring love will sustain itself in my life.

I put it this way: Life is a roller coaster – the highs are exhilarating and the lows are frightening. Yet, there’s a surefire way to even out the course. It’s called faith. With faith, and effort behind it, it’s impossible to get emotionally mired in even the bleakest situations because no matter what all signs may tell us, there’s only one truth: We will ultimately overcome. Have faith, put effort behind it, and believe that you are intrinsically capable of living the life of your dreams.

Something About Mary


By Mark E. Smith

When Mary and I talked in the Biltmore hotel’s bar in Los Angeles three years ago, there was an unusual familiarity. We both have always been around wheelchairs — and the close-knit community that innovated them since the 1970s — but somehow never knew each other, personally. We both knew of each other, and certainly knew everyone else, but oddly just never crossed each other’s path. Yet, both knowing everyone else in the bar, as well as traveling in the same circles for 30-something years, we had an instant known-you-forever connection.

However, as I’ve learned in the subsequent three years, Mary’s graciousness had nothing to do with our common experience and friends. Rather, the instant comfort and connection I found with icon, Mary Wilson Boegel, one of the original Quadra wheelchair crew members, was simply who she is — open, embracing, encouraging, love-filled — regardless of who you are. I’ve since seen her light up every room we’ve entered when we’ve been on the road at various expos and events. And, whenever anyone needs anything, Mary and her husband, Bruce, are always there to help. She even is so gracious toward my daughter, always acknowledging her accomplishments via Facebook. There’s just something about Mary, a true soul mother to many.

And, so it was no surprise to me that on the recent 40th anniversary of the injury that caused her spinal cord injury, she shared with us who know, adore, and love her one of the most amazing pieces of writing I’ve seen on the subject, a piece that doesn’t just address her disability experience, but so beautifully captures many of our experiences who’ve used wheelchairs for decades now. And, the lesson that she ultimately shares is… well… breathtaking.

It’s with great privilege that I share with you this amazing piece of writing by such an amazing woman, where may you be blessed by having a bit of Mary’s spirit in you.

There’s Something About 40
By Mary Wilson Boegel

Today is the 40th anniversary of the day I broke my back and began living with a spinal cord injury. I have certainly acknowledged this day in my heart each year, but there’s something about 40 that steps up one’s self-awareness – reflection, which then turns to gratitude. And, of course, love… the greatest gift of all.

So much has happened in these 40 years. Huge challenges, which continue to help me nurture strength, creativity, perseverance, compassion, vulnerability, humility and, then, solutions wrapped in gratitude. And, all the amazing people I am blessed to know and have in my life… love is the best anyone can hope for… giving and receiving… I am truly blessed.

In the spirit of “you’ve come a long way, baby,” here’re just a few:

The doctors gave me a lifespan of 15 years maximum in 1973. There was no ADA. Nobody wanted to hire me. Nobody wanted to rent me an apartment because they were afraid it would offend the other tenants. Nobody wanted their kids to hang out with me, God forbid, date me. Many would cross the street when they saw me coming, so they wouldn’t get too close to me. Many store clerks would not speak to me, but rather address a companion I was with. No curb cuts, so I pushed in the street or found a driveway if lucky. Limited restaurant and “social activity” access… sat in the slanted aisle of the movie theater if fortunate enough to go (cite the little things we take for granted). No public restroom access or water fountains or payphones (yes, kids, before cell phones!). No ramps, no easy-swing doors, no public access in general. Most private homes had stairs to just get to the front door. And flying… hahaha… Crawling 101 was the rule unless someone was willing to carry you – that is, assuming the airline let you fly to begin with. Discrimination was alive and unwell. Myths and misconceptions running rampant. Cripple was a common reference. And no lightweight – never mind, ultralight – wheelchairs.

But, love made it all ok. Starting with the love of life, waking up each morning and being grateful for that day. Loving (ok, sometimes fueled by anger) the challenge of trying to improve perceptions, access, mobility. Loving the opportunity to try to make a difference. And, by far, most importantly, loving and being loved by the incredible people in my life. Breaking my back was a slap upside the head to be a better, caring, loving person, and apparently its true: when you put something out to the universe, the universe in turn brings it back to you. I am surrounded by so much love… my dear husband, family and friends… your love! So grateful am I for my wonderful life!

The Humanity of Foot Washing


By Mark E. Smith

There’s been an amazing trend across the country of very financially and socially successful people – from business titans to professional athletes – washing the feet of the homeless.

Now, we know how superficial we in the U.S. can be, where many look down on the homeless, walking around them on city sidewalks like they’re invisible.

And, yet, they’re not invisible. They’re as human as you and me, with a value and depth to their humanity that’s no less than anyone else’s. And, this is where foot washing comes in. See, while “foot washing” is biblical, it’s also very much about humility. It’s about simply connecting with others as-is, caring just to care, loving just to love, where superficial pettiness doesn’t separate us. Rather, our humanity unites us. After all, what’s more socially leveling and caring than washing others’ feet?

I’ve just entered my 42nd year, and if there’s one lesson I’ve learned in my life it’s not to judge others – and not to allow them to judge me. My ultimate role is to love and be loved, as ideally all of our roles should be. I don’t care if you’re worth $2-billion like a gentleman I’m currently interviewing for a writing project, or if you’re flat broke like a homeless gentleman I met in Vegas last summer and shared a poignant moment with. You can smell like cologne or urine. You can live in a mansion or a shack. You can be of any color, of any religion, of any sexual orientation, from any educational background. I don’t care. My only concern is, are you a kind person, and if so, I will be glad to wash your feet, human to human, where I trust you’d do the same for me.

The fact is, in my 42 years, I’ve known the pain and injustice of, as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, being judged not based on the quality of my character, but the color of my skin, so to speak. Strangers and those close to me alike have judged me many of times, obviously based on my physical disability but for other petty reasons, as well. And, it all hurt. However, it’s all taught me to love and accept others at deeper, truer levels. I will love you for you, as-is, period. And, it’s an amazing process where it’s brought amazing people into my life who I wouldn’t have known if I were judging and stereotyping.

For some of us, we see having the opportunity to “wash others’ feet” as a blessing. Yet, imagine how wonderful it is to have one’s own feet washed, to just know that someone cares.



By Mark E. Smith

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way…. -Pablo Neruda

As we sat talking – strangers seated next to each other on an airplane – I told him what I know about love as I glanced out the window, clouds beneath us drifting by, uncertainties ahead, the unknowns of travel and life….

Love isn’t about chances, I told him. It’s about trust. When you see a woman walking toward you – maybe the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen – and you smile warmly, looking into her eyes, you trust that she’ll smile back. Maybe it’s a stranger, and the electricity of her eyes says it all. Or, maybe she’s someone you know, and the squeeze of her hug says it all. However it occurs, it’s not about chances, it’s about trust.

When you ask a woman out on a date – maybe you put it casually, Do you want to go grab something to eat? – it’s not about chances, it’s about trust.

When you’re the first to initiate any milestones – …Can I see you again? …Do you want to come in? …How about meeting my friends? …What would you think about us going away this weekend? …I’m falling in love with you… – it’s not about chances, it’s about trust.

When there’s a petty argument, a disagreement, moodiness, and you’re the first to say, I’m sorry, it’s not about chances, it’s about trust.

When either one of you is confused or scared by it all, don’t run away from the relationship, run toward it. And, if she says that she needs time and space – maybe she’s even told you, It’s over – you step back as a gentleman, as a guy who cares and understands, and you give her that time and space because love isn’t about chances, it’s about trust.

And, when you have her picture still on your dresser, looking at it with fond memories – her head tilted back, smiling – but she’s not calling you on the phone anymore, your heart isn’t aching but warmed. Because, love isn’t about chances, it’s about trust.

Now, I can’t tell you whether it’s over or not in such cases – sometimes love has a vagueness and timing of its own. The cadence of the heart can’t be explained. But, I can tell you this: Love isn’t about chances. It’s about trust. …And, if you’re going to love – truly, madly, deeply – you have to trust more than you ever thought possible.

And, the clouds – the clouds, looking like I could float on them – just kept drifting by….

Where Love Grows

By Mark E. Smith

The Hayes stop by my company once per year, either on their way to Maine in May, or on their way back to North Carolina in September. Snowbirds, they are.

I have no idea exactly how long they’ve been married, but I’d guess 45 years, based their age, as well as having three grown grandchildren. And, they’re madly in love – and it’s contagious to everyone around them.

And, so, it’s no surprise that when Mrs. Hayes was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis years ago, Mr. Hayes took an early retirement, and dedicated himself not just to his wife’s eventual full-time care, but also toward doing an astounding job of continuing with their dream retirement, going between North Carolina and Maine.

I’ve been in a unique position in that I’ve seen snapshots of Mrs. Hayes’ progression, yearly glimpses into her loss of function, to the point this September that she can only move her head a bit. Yet, what would seem like bittersweet annual visits are actually uplifting, a true lesson in life – and love.

See, despite the progression of multiple sclerosis, the Hayes simply seem happier every time I visit with them – projecting a contentment, zest, and love for life we should all be blessed with. And, it’s intrigued me to the point that I’ve striven to define what they intrinsically know that many others don’t, how they simply get happier the tougher life gets?

What I’ve determined is a profound truth: They continually inspire each other.

Think about how many couples we know with everything to be thankful for – health and wealth – but all they do is bicker and disrespect each other. There’s no admiration or inspiration seen in each other – just two unappreciative people, living a devalued life.

However, the Hayes are different. They know that the other is putting 100% into life, the marriage, and everyone around them – and are so inspired by each other that they each give more and more. The result is a cumulative effect, where it’s like inspiration squared, admiration compounded, love volleyed back and forth that just grows and grows and grows.

And, so there are two questions that the Hayes teach us to ask in our own relationships: Does our partner inspire us, and are we inspiring our partner?

If the answer is, yes, then we are doing everything right, living an ultimately-fulfilled life of truly reciprocating love – a love that just grows and grows and grows.

However, if we’re in a relationship where we’re not mutually inspired with our partners, then we need to make changes for the better – starting with ourselves, allowing ourselves to inspire and love fully.

Yet, the ultimate lesson that the Hayes teach us is that we don’t have a limited reservoir for inspiration and love. Rather, we have the unique capacity for boundless inspiration, where love doesn’t merely exist, but can constantly grow.