The Leavenworth going away video showed a picture of me – many, many years ago – as a lean muscular high school wrestler pinning an opponent with a less than kind hold.
One of my fire captains came up to me after the ceremony. He said, “Chief, you were a wrestler. That explains a lot.”
The captain was correct. Each of our experiences in life has some effect on us, some more than others. One that ranks high is illness. Mine was polio.
Nobody wants to get infected with a disease like polio. But, if you are going to get it, there is a “best time” – and that is when you are the absolute youngest. That was when it came to me.
I was just beginning to walk when my mother noticed my face seemed swollen on the left side. Maybe there was a swollen tooth?
But, this was no tooth problem. And the problem wasn’t with the left side, it was with the right side – the whole right side of my body. Polio was the problem.
In its course the disease left me with a misshaped body, smaller in all regards on the right side. But, the effects weren’t just physical, they were also mental – good and bad.
Let us examine the good ones. We will call them lessons.
Empathy was one lesson. Polio left me with a strong sense of empathy for the less fortunate. My sense of empathy became so pronounced that it got me in trouble at times. Folks didn’t understand why I responded so vehemently to attacks on the less fortunate.
Polio also taught me the lesson of “triumph over adversity”. Who would’ve thought a young man with size 13 left shoe and a size 10 right shoe, along with an inch and a half shorter leg on the right could ever be a firefighter?
But, the most important polio lesson of all was “appreciation”. You really get a strong sense of appreciation when you have a disease that has a high likelihood of crippling you, but doesn’t.
There are so many things that factor into why a person is like they are. Bottom line?
Understanding people is complicated.