With summer winding down, the stark realization of a few missed opportunities have been slightly unsettling. At times, life has little disregard in pressing us to the point where we feel almost crushed. The pressure can make it very difficult to remain positive. Sometimes too much to bear. Self-reflection turns to harsh criticism, and one tends to forget it’s more about the journey than the destination. For myself, most notably, the photo shoot I had planned. Despite achieving virtually my best physical stature to date, something held me back – my own heart. As a mentor and friend I often tell others to follow what’s inside their heart and not so much the infirmaries of the mind. The mind can be deceiving. It can hold one back, and justify nearly anything. Yet it’s only the heart that can be felt – beating. Sometimes I forget. Sometimes even I forget my own gems of wisdom and forget to feel. I just react, and by constantly reacting, I lose perspective. However, God seems to have a way of bringing me back to center. Time and time again, he refuses to allow my struggles to go to waste. God has given me so many heart transplants in my 31 years, I no longer keep track. It’s this driving force that also inevitably propels me in life. It pushes me towards a state of happiness when the world around seems far too chaotic. So in terms of the shoot, I promised myself from the onset that I would not commit to this endeavor if I could not dive in with enough passion, tenacity and stone iron will in which champions are made. Well, as I started to embark on one opportunity, my heart quickly began to lead me astray. For what I found in it’s place, as unlikely as it may seem, a heart of a champion – only of a toadally different name… a blessing to be known as “A-Love.”
“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not the fish they are after.” —Henry David Thoreau
As a young boy, my grandparents use to take me fishing every summer. I thought nothing of it back then. Frequently I’d ham in front of the camera with not a single care in the world. As time slowly matured me into a man, a deeper appreciation and value for open waters started to come about. With it also brought a sense of renewal, being able to cleanse the mind. Emotionally I was coming out from a place where I had just written “Embracing Emotional Growth”. I needed a reboot. So I decided to go fishing one day in early spring. I had not been at it very long, when in the distance, I saw what I determined was an overly attractive female with a small child. I remember thinking she was probably the type of girl that used her looks a lot in life to get ahead. She stuck out and was out of her element, but I was genuinely intrigued. What brought her to such a spot? She seemed like she had no idea how to even bait a hook. After all the observations, I approached using my classic cerebral palsy charm… By nearly falling for the girl! Haha …I suppose it was more like an awkward lunging spin move of sorts at the girl. You get the picture! Whatever it was, I had enough to break the ice. She gave me a big smile, asking if I was alright, and we began to talk. It wasn’t before too long that this complete stranger began sharing her personal story of living with Crohn’s disease.
Wow, I thought. As anyone who’s ever faced disease and disability knows, it’s really easy to become overwhelmed. The pain, frustration, setbacks, and isolation that can occur each day when you feel no one understands. I was disappointed in judging her book by it’s cover. Our lives were different and yet somehow the same. That day I felt the pull towards her spirit knowing we could share our struggles together. There are many days where my legs hurt, my muscle get tight and my joints are sore. The intensity and sheer strength radiating from her heart was hard to miss. I immediately viewed her as an ally, yet was still a little taken off-guard at the pace of our conversation. Although we were just getting to know each other, we spoke as if we were long time friends not missing a beat. She not only gave me a sense of pride in her ability to OVERCOME physical adversity much like myself, but also hooked me in how we’ve both chosen to outwardly express such a trait… as athletes.
A-Love was a softball player. Apparently, a rather good softball player might I add. It made complete sense as to why I could pitch her my ideas about life, and she would throw the sass right back. She’s was doing it for years. Strongly loyal to the game and fiercely competitive, she asked for a snapshot into my world. I told her about my foray into bodybuilding, my background with nutrition and what I’m most proud of – being a coach. A-Love shared she wished she could help others in the same capacity as I have done. I advised her it’s not for the faint of heart. I shared being a social worker by profession helps. However, I explained it takes a lot of TLC to one’s own well-being and emotional fitness in order to reap the rewards. Like any sport, one must practice daily and hone their own skill. It becomes a perpetual work in progress. But above all, I told her, one must keep an open heart and a honest transparency to yourself as well as those in which you care.
I felt a bit uneasy. A-Love’s hook was still bare. I offered to help. I think I triggered her in a way that she quickly and adamantly said, “No, I got it.” …No problem. One look at my palsyfied hand, and she probably thought I was joking. Then I thought about my flawless pirouette moments earlier. Still embarrassed, she had me wanting to pretend I was joking too! So I kept watching as she furiously fumbled around. A-Love almost succeeded on several occasions. But just shy of completion, for some strange reason, she would start the process all over again. I could hear her frustration. She voiced, “If it’s not on perfect, I’m afraid I’ll lose something amazing, ya know?” The light bulb went off inside my head. “I suppose” I said with a grin, “Ever consider using a lure instead?” I turned to show her my tackle box. Inside, I had placed creative affirmations under every lure: Forgiveness, Confidence, Faith, Healing etc. A visual reminder of self kindness. I encouraged her to take what she needed. I proclaimed, “Cast it out there far and wide… watch as it returns to you every time.” She laughed as if she were unsure of herself. A-Love asked, “Like a prayer?!?” I couldn’t help but to laugh out loud. That eerie sense of familiarity passed through me once again. I found her so cute in that moment. However this time, it also accompanied fear. It felt unstable, edgy, and uncertain. Where it was stemming from was unclear. It seemed to coincide with this underground welling I had. Perhaps the very reason I was out there fishing that day. Enough pressure to move my tectonic plates towards another layer of self-discovery deep within. But where was it shifting towards… and what could it all mean?
To be continued…