Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Rising Above Handicaps

I met Stanley in 1971. He was about 5'4" with dark black afro; he was also crippled and deformed. He had polio when he was young; his legs and arms were nearly useless. He could walk, but he needed help navigating stairs or standing up. Because of his handicap, his mind had developed in a unique way. For him walking across a room was a challenge; it had to be thought through. Any activity requiring the use of his arms, hands, or legs, needed to be carefully planned. We take movement for granted, give no thought to simple tasks like eating, writing, or getting in and out of a car. Stanley had to consciously determine how to accomplish the most simple tasks. This required a form of thinking much different than the average person. It forced him to see the world differently, in much greater detail, so that he could avoid problems that we never have to face.

Stanley was a self proclaimed architect and builder. He actually was brilliant He could design and build almost any structure in his mind. My wife , son Scott, and I had just moved into a small, one-bedroom apartment. Scott was two years old, sleeping with us in our bedroom. Stanley thought it would be to our advantage to build a wall in the room partitioning it into two areas. It seemed like a good idea. I had no clue how to even begin. Stanley said he would direct me.

For the next three days, one of the most incredible experiences of my life, Stanley and I merged into one person. He was the brains and I was the body. He controlled every movement that I made and this complicated wall actually was built; it was a perfect structure dividing the room.

We went to the lumber yard first. Stanley directed every movement of my hands so that I sawed the exact sizes of lumber we needed. We then went to the hardware store, bought additional materials: tools, nuts, bolts, and screws. Stanley knew exactly what was needed. He then stood next to me for hours and hours, orchestrating every minute movement of my hands. I hammered and assembled the different sizes of wood and accoutrements. I built the wall with an artistic flair.

I am the least mechanical person imaginable. I am absolutely horrible at any form of art or craft. But with Stanley positioning my body and explaining to me exactly how far back to raise the hammer, how to stand at the right angle to leverage my movements, we built the sucker. Everything went smoothly--as long as I did not think. My only effort was an engaged attention, a total subservience, to Stanley's guidance.

I did it. I physically created this structure. And it shocked me. Imagine Leonardo Da Vinci directing every movement of your hands, fingers, and body; imagine you replicated a Mona Lisa. That was how I felt. Magical.

There is a lesson here about what is possible with teamwork, if each team member truly understands their role and trusts each other. There is a lesson about how your life circumstances cause you to see things from different perspectives, how each perspective, although different, has validity and needs to be respected and valued. But mostly for me there was the lesson of watching Stanley, a truly noble spirit rising above the most difficult of challenges time and again in ways that would have seemed impossible to me if I had not observed them first hand.

Stanley died recently. Post Polio Syndrome caught up with him and just prevented him from continuing to breathe. He was married and had three children. He created two businesses. He had travelled extensively around the world. He truly was a remarkable character.


  1. Wow. great story about Stanley and true words. enjoyed the post.


  3. Stanley was a remarkable character and good friend.
    Don't scream Living Christian Center in Pennsauken. Why don't you start living your faith, rather than interpreting and condemning others lives? A simple invite and a bit of loving kindness to me is Christian behavior not making someone wrong and pushing your beliefs on someone else. Shame on you.

  4. Why is everyone so anonymous around here?

  5. This story is one of many I see from you that shows me why you are who you are. I am not sure how this relates to your belief system but rather to your approach in understanding others. Keep up the good work!