Feeling Sorry for Yourself? Try a Humbling Experience

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Linda Bounds, 2013 Disability Awareness Month Local Hero and inspiring art teacher.

The next time you feel sorry for yourself, stop.

Instead, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and do what I did. I visited a local convalescent home.

It’s humbling. It’s a bit of a wake up call, and a genuine reminder of how good I really have it. Because, no matter how bad things may seem sometimes, most of the folks there have way more on their plates than either you or me.

And yet what struck me about the people I met, all of whom have some degree of brain trauma, was how upbeat they are, and what a decidedly positive outlook on life many seem to have.

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I recently stopped by a convalescent center in order to sit in on an art class taught by Linda Bounds of Leaps and Bounds. Linda is being honored as a 2013 Disability Awareness Month Local Hero. And, I can see why.

Linda is a miracle worker.

I know this because after spending hours interviewing her and watching her in action, I have no doubt of the good she is doing. She’s coming into the lives of her students when they need it most, and helping them through the healing power of art.

Linda wears her love and compassion for others on her sleeve, but her magic lies in her uncanny ability to connect with her students and find the artistic muse within them, whether they are blind, can no longer speak for themselves, have Alzheimer’s, or are paralyzed. She’s like a sprite, spreading her magic fairy dust, goodwill and joy wherever she goes, and I was immediately taken by her energy and spark.

The way Linda sees it, “If you can scribble, you can paint.” And it’s true. The proof is in the art her students create.

After spending a morning with her class, I came away impressed, moved, and with a new sense of hope. I arrived expecting to sit in on a class, but I never expected Linda and her students to touch me the way they did, or to make me feel humbly grateful for what I have.

First, I met a woman who until two years ago, had a rewarding job in healthcare. Then one day she was in a car accident where her car rolled over four times. Miraculously, she survived but she will spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. On the day I met her she was busy with all sorts of activities. I remember how her wheelchair was decorated in cheerful colors, and how she smiled as she told me about her trip downtown the day before to see a special September 11th memorial. I stared in amazement, wondering how she had the fortitude to get on with her life as if nothing had really changed. What courage she conveyed.

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I met another woman who kept complimenting me on my sweater and shoes, and even my smile. She was expecting a visit from her mother, and couldn’t wait to give her a portrait she’d made of her mother’s cat. It took her a year to paint it and you could tell how proud she was of her achievement, as was the entire class. They looked at the painting and exclaimed in unison, “WOW!”

I was entranced by a young woman who had Elizabeth Taylor eyes and was dressed in leggings and purple Ugg boots. She caught my attention because she was one of the few with the ability to walk. I later learned she’s in the mid-stages of a debilitating genetic disease for which there is no cure, and that her brother has it as well. For her, it’s a matter of time before she must rely on a wheelchair.

Most of the patients here hail from all over the country. They come here for treatment but their families live elsewhere, which means many don’t usually get any visitors.

I feel blessed having had the opportunity to visit Linda and her class, and I’m hoping I can return someday soon and offer my assistance. After all, I found the experience to be inspiring and worthwhile. Time seemed to stand still as we chatted and I learned more about each of Linda’s students. And, in the process, I think I learned something about myself, too.

To learn more about Linda’s work in teaching art to the disabled, please check out my interview with her on my blog, Hey Neighbor! And while you’re at it, please read about the other Local Hero this month. Al Kovach, Jr., is a former Navy SEAL, and now a quadriplegic as a result of a parachuting accident. He works tirelessly through the Paralyzed Veterans of America to ensure veterans with spinal cord injuries obtain the support and resources they need.

So, what do you think? When was the last time you had a humbling experience?

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35 thoughts on “Feeling Sorry for Yourself? Try a Humbling Experience

  1. Awseome, Monica, I knew you wanted me to read this and you thought of me when you wrote it. It has been on my mind for weeks to make sure I read it fully to respond! It is beautiful. It’s amazing what people live with. Sometimes we spend so much time with complaining people and it would just help everyone to see the other side. Then, we can realize the little things are just LITTLE!
    Love,
    Jodi

    • Jodi, I’m so glad you stopped by to read this post. You’ve truly inspired me. I am not the type to look inward, or examine my imprint on the world. You know, humor’s my thing. But visiting the patients at this convalescent center genuinely moved me and thinking of you and your writings helped me process my feelings about the experience. So thank you, thank you. Your guidance is so appreciated.

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  3. I went through this a few years back (the humbling part) when my husband became suddenly ill. It wasn’t exactly the same, but going through the process of chasing doctor after doctor to share his findings so we could rule out what was not wrong with him. Humbling was seeing an abled bodied man come to terms with a body at risk. Different yes, but very eye opening and gave me a new perspective on life.

  4. I just finished reading a book about a quadriplegic. What struck me the most was how humorous it was, typically British, the way I grew up. It was a go on then, find a way to laugh through the pain sort of story. It inspired me to learn more, for I was limited in my knowledge of how truly difficult life is for quadriplegics and yet how a positive state of mind can take you far or not, for some.
    Linda seems like an incredibly serene person. I imagine it is from giving so much that her aura strikes me so. What a beautiful story. I will go check out your interview…

    I went to a little gallery about a month ago where there was some beautiful art, all painted by gifted artists with a variety of challenges. It humbled me beyond words, taught me so much.

    • It’s hard to imagine how I’d react should I suddenly find myself a quad. I can’t help but think I’d fall to pieces, feeling sorry for myself. But the folks I met and the Navy SEAL I interviewed were anything but. I even asked the former SEAL if he had any regrets. I half expected him to say, yes, when I jumped from the plane. But he said no. No regrets. He doesn’t feel sorry for himself at all. Instead he said something that I used in my story of him, as it got me teary. He said:

      “I volunteered to serve my country in a camouflage uniform. Once I got paralyzed, my uniform changed. I’m wearing a suit and I’m in a wheelchair but I’m still serving my country by taking care of my veterans.”

  5. What gorgeous artwork, and what wonderful work Linda does.

    I think everybody has some yearning towards the creative, but we fear being laughed at/ridiculed because our art’s not good enough. how great to give these people the opportunity to express themselves in a joyful and creative way.

  6. Great sentiment here, Monica. It’s so easy to get bogged down in our own troubles and forget that there are those out there who would gladly trade places with us.

  7. Isn’t it the truth, sometimes words fail to define our complete experience? We meet people who remind us just how fortunate we are. Thank you Monica, for reminding us how much we all have to be grateful for.

    • It’s so true, Val. I had a really hard time trying to figure out how to convey my feelings about the experience, and I wanted to be sensitive to not appearing that I’m taking advantage in any way. The people I met were truly inspiring. Maybe I expected or assumed they’d be miserable about their condition, but they weren’t. They were just making the best of the lot they were given, and that humbled me. We can all use a dose of that, and just make the best of what we have. Anyway, that was my takeaway.

  8. I worked with a young man for over three years until he moved away. Our conversations were limited to yes or no questions. It was an amazing experience to communicate with only yes’s or no’s. Gray/maybe/perhaps didn’t exist in his world. They got translated with “not today” or “next (fill in a time, i.e. week, month, year).” It made me think everyone should spend some time with him to sharpen their focus, question why a “no” couldn’t become a “yes.”

    • Wow, Georgette, I think working with such a guy would be very eye opening. How interesting and how wonderful that you were able to spend time with him and gain a new insight in the process.

  9. Thank you, Monica, for this illuminating post. It definitely shows us that, regardless of the challenges we all face, we can dig deep and give back in our own ways. How fortunate you are to have seen such unselfish spirit in action!

    • Yes, Debbie, fortunate indeed. I find I really enjoy the interview process. Everyone, no matter who they are, has a fascinating story to tell. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of listening and capturing it, putting it together in a way that makes sense and flows, and is something the interviewee can be proud to read. I interview Local Heroes and I want those who read their stories to know exactly why they’re being honored and worthy of the award.

  10. I am always amazed by people who do work like this Monica, they have my admiration.

    In the past I have done work with adults with learning disabilities and I found it both humbling and rewarding

    • Then you know what I’m talking about, Robert. I feel sheepish to complain about my life, especially when there are people with disabilities who have such fortitude, making the most of their lives. It’s an invaluable lesson.

  11. What an amazing experience this must have been, Monica! Sure puts a new spin on what matters. My aunt is a quadrapalegic, who broke her neck in 2001. The family was deeply changed (for the good) by that accident–strange as that may sound.

    So glad you got to visit this great place!

    Hugs from Ecuador,
    Kathy

    • It certainly was, Kathy, leaving me awestruck. An “Aha!” moment. I’m intrigued by how your aunt’s accident deeply changed your family for the better. If you haven’t already, will you share the story on your blog? Hope so!

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