By Daniel Roth
Since 1989, I have been a counselor at a camp for handicapped children. Through those years, a boy named Michael stands out as having had the biggest impact on me. He has cerebral palsy. He can't walk, talk, dress, or even feed himself. He says "yes" by raising his left hand and "no" by raising his right. Sometimes, even this is a challenge. Tests have proved that trapped in this body is a brain functioning at the proper level for his age.
When I first met Michael, I reacted the way most people probably do, with pity. But when you are around Michael, he never lets you pity him. He doesn't want sad people or glum faces around him. Michael had been attending our Cub Scout den for some time, when we finally convinced his mother to let him come to camp with us. When she dropped him off, I put on my "brave act" until she left; inside, I was terrified. Michael was the first camper we had with such a severe handicap.
Because of the tightness of his muscles and my inexperience, the first night it took me 20 minutes to get his shirt off. For 10 of those minutes, the shirt was over his face. I was really nervous. I was scared I was going to hurt him. I also was afraid that he was going to sense my apprehension and get upset. I was beginning to have serious doubts about my ability to make it through the weekend. When I finally got his shirt off, Michael was looking at me with a huge smile on his face. It was like he was saying "It's OK. Lighten up!" We both started laughing. I wondered who the counselor was. Who was encouraging whom?
Here was Michael, stuck in a body that barely worked. What did he have to give? He gave what he had: his smile and his attitude. He gave them with all he had. He took the cards life dealt him and played them for all they were worth. Michael not only tried to make the best of life, but he also made the people around him happier. Can we say the same?
Whenever I feel overwhelmed or depressed, I think of Michael. How dare I complain about my minor physical problems? How dare I let my bad attitude ruin the day for other people? I have no excuses to have anything but a positive attitude; I have no excuses not to bless people in every way I can.