The Happy Quadriplegic
by Olivia Love Worthy
As a nurse I once had a patient who was paralyzed from the neck down, yet very happy. He was a Vietnamese boy, around 18 years old, and could only turn his head. He had been in this condition for just 6 months as the result of a bullet through his spinal cord. We got along great so each evening he would wait for me to come into work and as soon as I’d get to the nurse’s station I’d hear him calling (in his heavy accent), “Miss Ovia, Miss Ovia!” He never did get my name right!
I was struck by him because he was full of positive energy and happier than anyone else I knew. Imagine not being able to scratch an itch, reach for a glass of water or turn over when you’re uncomfortable — this was his situation. It wasn’t long before I asked him the secret to his happiness, and he told me the following:
As members of a vicious Vietnamese gang, he and his best friend walked downstairs in the downtown Houston building where they were supposed to buy drugs, when 2 members of a rival gang came down behind them and shot them both. It had been a set up.
When the paramedics arrived, they couldn’t find a pulse on either boy and covered them with sheets. The coroner came and pronounced them both dead; however as my patient was being transferred to the morgue, the attendant noted he was breathing … barely.
“Miss Ovia, G-d had mercy on me. My friend died, but I have another chance to do good.” Imagine a former gang member having this kind of emunah (faith) so soon after losing his best friend and the use of his body!
A few rooms down was another patient of around the same age, in the same situation: paralyzed for about 6 months from the neck down by a bullet through the spine; however I couldn’t get this poor boy to smile or even speak a single word to me. He stared straight down all the time.
I certainly don’t judge him and I realize this is a very extreme example, however I think we can all learn something from this. Hopefully you’re not dealing with challenges on this level, but whatever your challenges are, the reality of your situation is what it is, so why make it harder on yourself by choosing a bad attitude?
We all have our issues and pain that we need to work through — please don’t think I’m talking about suppressing these. However we also have the ability when we wake up in the morning to make it a good day, because it’s not the outside circumstances that determine if life is going well — it’s our perception of them. When we remember that everything comes from Hashem and that it truly has a purpose and serves our highest good, we can have joy even in the midst of pain.
This brings me to one of my favorite quotes: “Nothing’s either good or bad but thinking makes it so” – William Shakespeare.
In Judaism of course we say it’s all for good, but Shakespeare helps us to realize that our perception of reality is not reality at all. This explains why two people going through a similar situation can have completely different outlooks. Surely if their perception were reality they’d have the same outlook! What one person considers an end can be a new beginning to another.
At the beginning of February I began walking with canes. I was grateful to be able to walk and kept telling myself, “As long as I can walk, I can handle this.” A few days ago I realized, is that not idolatry? How can I say, “Hashem, all I need is You,” and then in the next breath say I’ll only be happy if I can walk? That is basically saying, “Hashem, I need You and something else!”
We should all investigate the source of our happiness. If my simcha comes from knowing Hashem, then I should always have it, because Baruch Hashem no one can take Him away from me!
Olivia Love Worthy of Tzefat was once a dedicated and beloved nurse who has since devoted her life to learning and teaching natural and spiritual healing. You may see Olivia’s blog on the subject at http://dontforgettosaythankyou.blogspot.com/