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.
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.
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?