Beth, the quietest, kindest, and most loving of sisters sits at her beloved piano looking quite sad. One of her sisters spies her and asks her what is the matter. Beth replies that the baby, from the German family she had been delivering much needed food too, was ill with scarlet fever . . .
At this point my stomach swoops, my throat begins to tighten and ache, and my tear ducts sting ever so slightly.
. . . Jo, one of Beth's sister's, has to return home quickly from New York City, to see Beth one last time. You see, Beth is dying. Jo helps to care for Beth in her last days. One evening Jo is reading Beth a story when a chill wind blows in from the open window. Jo gets up and shuts the window, only to turn around, knowing that her favourite sister is gone from this world. Beth lays on her bed with peace and serenity . . .
It is at this point that I am curled into a ball on my lounge, a tissue permanently fixed to my nose, tears dripping down my cheeks, my bottom lip quivering, my heart thumping so loud I almost struggle to hear the rest of the story. I am heartbroken. I love Beth, and now Beth is gone.
But of course, Beth is a fictional character in a story called "Little Women," and I am talking about the scene in the 1994 film version where Beth (played by an excellent Claire Danes) dies so quietly with her sister by her side. It is so sad and even though I have seen the movie a thousand times, this scene still kicks me in the guts - HARD!!
The point I am trying to illustrate, however, is that emotion is King (and Queen and Prince and Princess), emotion gives us authenticity, emotion gives us connection, emotions gives us life, and emotion encourages loyalty. Why am I quacking on about emotion you might ask? Does networking mean anything to you?
Okay, okay, I will explain myself - I attended a meeting of the PSA (Professional Speakers Association) on Saturday morning, where I network and learn about my biz. We had two fantastic speakers speak to us, and their (unintended) theme thread was . . . (drum roll please) . . . EMOTIONAL CONNECTION.
You see, we need that emotional connection, whether with speaking, writing, managing, playing sport, playing a musical instrument, talking with your family/friends . . . without that emotional connection, empathy, kindness, authenticity, and love, breaks down. For the first speaker - Felix A. Schweikert - it was about the emotional generosity that sparks a business sale. Build emotional/authentic content, build that relationship, and the client is yours. For the second speaker - Lee Jackson - it was about the visual emotional connection. "We live in a visual generation," Lee is right, we do live in such an emotively visual world that to make our messages stick we have to use sticky (er, emotional) visuals.
I have built my own story around the emotions of hope, determination, joy, happiness, and belief - and it is these emotions that I wish to pass onto those that come behind me . . . What is your story? What is your emotional connection through story? How can you use it to benefit your studies? Work? Sport?
Now to finish on a happier note (no more of the sad emotion evoked above) -
Elizabeth was halfway through her race and knew that she was in a good position in the race. Her arms were aching though, her legs losing their strength - but focusing on technique, Elizabeth pushed through, believing that she would make it to the end, body and mind intact. The last lap. Pushing off the wall Elizabeth let her heart soar! She felt herself lift, floating high in the water, allowing her body to cruise through the final seconds of the race. Touching the wall she looked to her left, no-one else had touched the wall yet - her heart hammered in her chest not just from physical exertion. Turning to her right she saw the beaming face of Stephanie. Elizabeth had come second . . . Elizabeth had come second. Elizabeth felt the smile explode onto her reddened features; puffing, she pulled herself through the water to Steph and wrapped her arms around the other swimmer. "Can you believe it!" Elizabeth shouted. No she couldn't, Elizabeth had achieved more then she had ever expected to, Elizabeth was on top of her own little world, and no-one could knock her from it!
Unlike "Little Women" this is a true story . . . part of my story . . . and I still get the tingles of excitement and euphoria when I think about it.
Not so long ago, and with no names named (other than mine), I had a discussion with someone over legs. Yes . . . legs. You see, this someone was concerned over their calves, they felt that their calves were too big and therefore unsightly and highly unattractive.
My response - "Well, at least you have two calves to complain about, I only have one!!"
LOOK! - Two calves!
The body. My body. Your body. All different, all capable of many different and amazing things - big calves or not! This is what I don't particularly GET about our world at the moment, this focus on THE PERFECT BODY. When shouldn't we just be content, happy, and GRATEFUL that we have our bodies, that we are ALIVE?!?
Instead of focusing on what is "wrong" with our bodies, we should celebrate our shape, our size, our skin, our souls! Nourish what we have, appreciate what we have, and grow with what we have.
In my case I have learnt to appreciate my stumpy right arm and my shortened right leg . . . HEY! Who else is able to carry their dinner plate on their elbow while simultaneously carrying a drink in their left hand?? BUT, it is what I have done and do with my body that makes me hold such gratitude for it - problem solve physical activity issues i.e., mobility, attend mainstream schools, ELITE ATHLETE ANYONE!!!!, drive a car, attend university, move overseas, start my own business. All of these have involved being able to look after and "love" the body that I have.
Really guys and gals, don't hate what you have! Don't look in mirror with a negative eye and criticise your (very normal) lumps and bumps.
I am on a gratitude crusade at the moment - the best thing to be thankful for from the moment you wake up to the time you fall asleep, YOUR BODY!! It's why your here peeps! So if I hear anyone bemoaning their "fat" calves, look out - I will find you and tell you how it REALLY IS!!
Gratitude is a topic that seems to, inadvertently, rise to the surface of my talks in schools, kinda like the cream that rises to the top of milk, i.e., the great stuff magically appears out of the good stuff, without even trying.
Gratitude. To be thankful. To accept. To appreciate. To love unconditionally.
So . . . in my usual talk of living with disability, overcoming barriers, and becoming a Paralympian, I normally don't specifically reference gratitude. Whilst I hope the sentiment is there, it usually isn't until I get to the Question and Answer section of my talk that the theme of gratitude arises. You see, a student will raise there hand, look nervously about, and then ask tentatively -
"Do you ever wish that you were born normal? I mean, without your disability? You know, with two arms and two legs?"
(The above question is a bit of a mix of the questions that I do get asked - all within the same realm of intent though.)
Let's talk about gratitude!!!
It is guaranteed that I will get asked the question above (or variant) at some point in my Q and A session. It is a question that I love, because it is a question that I have often asked myself. So much so, that I know my answer; I know exactly how I will respond.
"No, I never wish that I was born without my disability, and here is why. If I hadn't been born with my disability I would not be living this amazing journey right now. I would not have the life that I love, I would not have been a Paralympian, I would not have had all of the opportunities that I have been given. I love my life and my life has come about because of who I am, because of my limb deficiency.
I am thankful that I have been born with missing limbs. I am thankful for the unique perspective my disability has afforded me in living in this world. I am thankful for the opportunity to touch peoples lives in such a way that they live their lives better, because of my disability. I am thankful that I was born into the family I was born into, who showed me the way to independence and self belief. I am thankful for the way my life has turned out, because without it being THIS way, I would not be here today to tell my story. In fact I feel privileged to have a disability, because it makes me purposeful in life, motivated, determined to try everything, to live fully, to appreciate life.
Do I wish I was born without my disability?
Many students are often amazed when I say I am glad I was born with my disability. For most people, to be disabled is seen as a negative thing. It takes the realisation that it isn't our bodies or our social positions or our financial situations that give us a life to be grateful for, it is our mindset, our thoughts, our feelings that reflect how we see our lives. My mindset is one of gratitude, let yours be as well.
Gratitude = abundance
Gratitude = love
Gratitude = motivation
Gratitude = self belief