I CHOOSE TO LIVE
I have a friend whose approach and attitude to life is a great source of inspiration to me.
I first met him in 1966 when we were both 16 years old. We ate at the same dining table at boarding school (Toowoomba Grammar), during the most uncomfortable year of my life. I didn’t get to know him very well at the time. I was a fairly quiet natured country town boy, so my first year away from home was certain to be one during which I would be forced to rapidly develop some social skills, purely to survive each day. In contrast, he had already been there for a couple of years and to me he appeared to be one of the fittest, strongest boys in the school, with heaps of confidence in his physical and sporting abilities. He was playing for the top school rugby union team, a year ahead of his age group. The term, “mountain man” would best describe my recollection of him.
Last year I received a copy of the school magazine in the mail and noted a short item about this man, Heyward Robertson who had just launched a book he had recently written. I couldn’t recognise him from the photo, but 46 years makes some significant changes in our appearances. So, I did a Google search on the name, realising that there couldn’t be too many Heyward Robertsons in the world. As I read his website, there was no doubt that this was the bloke I’d shared a dining table with in 1966. However, the developments in his life were way beyond what I could have imagined.
At the age of 21, he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and is now totally quadriplegic. I ordered a copy of his book which I couldn’t put down till I finished it. I sent him an email saying how much I had enjoyed it. Surprisingly, he remembered me and as he is only living a couple of hours away in Toowoomba, I took a drive to catch up with him. That visit turned out to be one of the most inspiring five hours I’ve spent for many years. He hardly made any reference to the difficulties he has encountered through living with the disease. His conversation was totally positive as we discussed various mutual acquaintances from the past, and his big plans for the future.
As his story goes, at the time of his deepest depression, when he was coming to terms with the doctor’s information that his newly acquired disease was degenerative, (meaning that he would first lose the use of his legs and later be confined to a wheel chair) he made a personal declaration which changed the direction of his life. That declaration was, “I choose to live”. At that point he chose not to focus on the level of hardship that would be imposed on his life by MS, but instead to consider all options available, through which he could make significant achievements that would make his life meaningful and rewarding. Writing his book is an excellent example. He completed the whole task with a voice activated computer.
I have a poster in my study which is a statement by Theodore Roosevelt:
DO WHAT YOU CAN, WITH WHAT YOU HAVE, WHERE YOU ARE.
This is exactly the attitude Heyward has applied to his life.
Lately, I have been reflecting on his words, “I choose to live”, and decided to do a bit of a brainstorming exercise, listing all the choices I could think of which are associated with the overall choice to live. So far I’ve come up with 30, and I keep adding to it.
Here are a few from my list:
• I choose to love unconditionally.
• I choose to forgive.
• I choose to smile and focus on how much I have to be thankful for when I am feeling down.
• I choose to encourage and inspire those who lack confidence and struggle to find purpose in life.
• I choose to withhold judgement and criticism of others.
• I choose to not take offence to anything anyone says or does against me.
• I choose to discipline my thoughts, words and actions.
• I choose to maintain a positive attitude through disappointing circumstances.
• I choose to live adventurously and give generously.
• I choose to apply myself well to any innovative ideas that come to me.
• I choose to welcome uncomfortable circumstances as opportunities for personal growth.
From my Christian perspective, I would summarise them all with the following statement:
I choose to embrace the fullness of life by maintaining a very close Father-child relationship with the Creator of the universe; and drawing from that relationship the love and wisdom required to most effectively respond to the needs of others I encounter throughout my life.
A couple of very short booklets I’ve written expand a bit on this perspective. (Life’s Two Biggest Questions, and Give Me A Hug.) They are on my website.
The title of Heyward’s book is, “RIDING THE ROUGH ROAD”. You can buy a copy from his website. www.heywardrobertson.com
I highly recommend it to anyone who values inspirational and motivational writers.