What prepares us for adversity? Those serious conditions or instances of continued difficulty that are somehow bookmarked in the halls of our brains from a very young age? It is a subject I have pondered many times, over many miles, across this country. I have searched for answers and under many circumstances they have been very different. I can however only relate things that have happened to me that in some way gave me the tenacity and conviction to overcome those difficult periods.
As children, my brothers and I lived a simple life. Our home was small, really small and to this day I remember…..The three of us in the same bathtub together with my youngest brother in the middle so he wouldn’t slide down and drown himself……(we thought he was just holding his breath). The suds were made by Palmolive dish soap and the three of us loved our mothers caring hands when she washed our hair. I remember crawling to the dinner table with casts on both legs from a surgery to correct a defect in both legs. If I didn’t get up into my chair on my own I went hungry. At Christmas we each got one toy. We played a lot. We wrestled a lot and for whatever reason always seemed to be a problem for our stepfather. Where other children could do no wrong we could do no right. Ever. We paid for that.
Pain can come in many forms. It can be a sting on bare skin from a leather belt. It can be in words that are yelled at you. Words that crumble self esteem. It can even come in a stare that instills fear in a little boys heart and it can even bury itself in the humiliation you feel as you were made to sit on a tiny bunk bed with sheets soaked in urine, confined for hours because the act was thought to be intentional. Actually you were to scared to get up in the middle of the night and go to the bathroom. Afraid of that leather belt or hand that would swing at any time. When we sat in those beds my brother and I continued to play with our little Matchbox cars even though we were told to not have any toys. To deal with boredom and the fear of getting caught, my brother scratched a hole in the wall with his tiny fingers and we hid our cars there. Out of sight……forever…. we were never able to retrieve them. Well at least we won that small battle of wills for the price of a metal car. It made our Christmas list easy for the next year too.
I dealt with those childhood conditions of detachment and pain and an ongoing period of mental and physical abuse by dreaming. I would escape to my room and read and dream of living somewhere else or in the mountains, surviving off the land. I dreamt of running in the Olympics. My dreams became a room in my mind that I could escape to at any time and close the door. It was a place where I became invigorated and confident and in the make believe races I ran, I always won. I believed the bad would pass. I believed there was always something better. I believed that as my life moved forward and I grew older that I would never be confined again by fear or self doubt.
During this run, when I was alone on some desolate stretch of highway, when the wind was blowing hard and the sun scorched me. When the stroller I pushed caused aches throughout my body, When miles of hard, hot pavement lie ahead under weary legs, my instincts took over. I had learned from a young age that no matter how bad it gets, it will get better. I had learned that I had to be responsible for myself and and also be accountable for my actions. It was a startling revelation when it hit me. That moment of “What do I do?” and I realized that it was me and only me that could resolve this moment of adversity. I carried an arsenal of weapons and they were all in my mind. I carried the expectations of thousands of names that could only watch along the highways as they stood next to their flag. It was not a burden but something more powerful that could not be measured. I carried the strength and conviction of a little boy burying his past with every footstep.
Yes, out on the road you think of many things. There is always adversity. Some days were not easy. The heat and humidity around Jackson, MS wilted me like a dying flower. Self doubt knocked on the door but I chose not to answer it. The decay of our nations roads made running with the stroller nearly impossible at times but again the door of doubt did not get opened. The body revolts at times and yet if you will it along, it responds and you move forward, ever forward. Never succumbing to adversity means that you are still alive and with being alive comes that revelation of greatness that our dreams are truly attainable….