Not Wishing I Could
The weight room at my gym is where I do a
lot of thinking. For an hour, four or five
times per week, it's just me. my thoughts
and my body. I experience the highs and confidence
of pushing more than 300 pounds with my arms,
and the lows of struggling with even the smallest
of weights in my leg workout. When I work
my upper body, I think, "What if?"
When I work my lower body, I think, "What's
Toward the end of one of my workouts the
other day, as I was gazing out the window
between sets, I saw one of the trainers returning
from a run on the trail beside the Papio Creek.
For a moment, I let my mind stray into the
dangerous territory of "I wish I could."
We all wish WE COULD something. We wish that
we could have more money - that we could be
taller, not as fat, not as bald - that we
could have a better job, more friends, fewer
worries. Heck, I wish I could stay awake through
a movie with my wife, and she wishes I could
get along with her mother. Some things are
just not going to happen.
In this way, my physical disability has been
a gift. I understand that certain capabilities
are beyond my reach, and this awareness has
allowed me to see more clearly the blessings
that I do have.
Instead of lamenting the fact that I can't
play basketball at the gym, I'm happy that
I'm healthy enough to exercise and build muscle.
Rather than being bitter about needing to
turn down tickets for a Nebraska football
game, I'm fulfilled that I've found the skills
to build a reasonably successful business.
Few of us spend much time thinking about
everything that we can do, while we spend
a disproportionate amount of time thinking
about the things beyond our reach. Doing this
robs us of the joy of the moment and impedes
our progress toward our goals. This is a lesson
I constantly review when I go hunting.
Hunting is my passion, and it's one that
challenges my will to focus on my strengths
rather than my limitations, because it's a
pursuit best undertaken by not only able-bodied
individuals, but individuals in fairly athletic
shape. This is because the highest number
and best trophy animals are often in the most
remote and unforgiving terrain - terrain that
is almost always beyond my reach.
Many times, I can see where I want to go,
and I can sometimes even see the game I'm
pursuing, yet, my legs can't get me there.
November 2010 was a good example of that.
I was out in Nebraska's Sandhills, trying
to fill the spot on my wall for a trophy whitetail
The whitetail is one of the most challenging
North American trophies, because the mature,
large bucks became large and mature by associating
humans with danger and avoiding them at all
costs. The best way to get close to them is
to quietly sneak into their territory, leaving
as little scent as possible. Most people park
a mile or two from where they are going to
be hunting, and then walk in.
I'm not most people. This year, like every
year, I had to have someone drive me to the
blind where I was to sit for the remainder
of the day. My guide Aric then drove back
out, and returned on foot a short time later
to sit with me, probably scaring every deer
within a mile. Because of the commotion we
made, it was no surprise that we didn't see
anything all morning, and we decided to take
a mid-day break.
Shortly after Aric left to get the truck,
he came running back to the blind. He had
seen the big deer that we knew was out there.
In fact, my trophy stood and stared at him
from 50 yards. It would have been an easy
shot, extremely rare for a trophy buck, and
if I had been with Aric, my trophy would have
been in the back of the truck.
Instead, Aric and I sat there until nightfall,
and for several more days. We saw the trophy
deer a mile or so away a couple of times,
but we could never get him to come close enough
to us for a shot.
I could have left the Sandhills angry and
frustrated, because I felt both of those emotions
over the long days in the blind, but being
angry and frustrated is counter-productive,
especially when you are trying to enjoy your
passion. Instead, I felt thankful for the
excitement I felt knowing that this deer was
close and might appear at any moment. I had
also enjoyed watching many more deer and clearing
my mind from mental clutter, as I had nothing
to entertain me but some of nature's best
I think that all of us have those deer blind
moments when we can't seem to get what we
want and it seems to come so easily for everyone
else. We look enviously through our windshields
at the Mercedes, oblivious to the freedom
that our own transportation provides. We're
jealous when we learn that our friends earn
more money than we do, instead of reassured
knowing that we have relationships with achievers.
We see a trainer returning from a run on a
sunny day, and we feel helpless that we will
never feel that exhiliration.
That's the wrong way to live. It robs us
of happiness and closes our minds to hope
Each one of us has capabilities that someone
else wishes they had, even if it is as simple
and basic as our health.
I was reminded of that one morning, years
ago, as I made my way to an early morning
class at the University of Nebraska-Kearney.
I was having one of those mornings where everything
seemed to go wrong. A series of drops and
spills had made me a few minutes late, though
I awoke at the right time. My tardiness cost
me a shot at the close parking spaces near
my classroom building, so I had to park a
few blocks away and hike in.
By the time I reached my building, I was
feeling pretty sorry for myself. It was then
that I met a young man in a wheelchair.
"Hey, I hope you don't mind me asking,"
he began, and before I could respond, he asked,
"Were you ever in a chair?"
Being in a chair is one of my biggest fears,
one of my largest motivators for time in the
gym and a likely future according to some
in the medical field. For those reasons, I
resist even thinking about the possibility.
I stammered my answer. "Umm . . . no."
Then, quickly, almost defensively, I followed
"I've noticed you and thought that maybe,
since your upper body appears so strong, that
maybe you spent some time in a chair, but
trained your way out," he said and looked
It became quickly obvious to me that he watched
me limp around and saw hope. While he was
watching me and hoping the same for himself,
I fought self-pity. We were unaware of each
If I could borrow a healthy set of legs for
a day, I'd return them sore and tired. I'd
find something to hunt, and then pursue it
through the thickest, nastiest terrain. I'd
walk through the Old Market and over the pedestrian
bridge. I'd play a game of basketball with
my son in the driveway.
But, none of that is going to happen. And
I'm OK with that. Because life is too short
and too precious to waste time sulking, I'll
enjoy the life that I can live within the
restraints that cannot be changed, and I hope
the same for you.
-- Mitch Arnold