The Courage to Climb the Steps of Ike Hall

This is the second of my blog series – It Takes Courage.  As explained in the other  blogs  here It Takes Courage to Show God’s Smile  It Takes Courage in this World, courage is not only manifest in monumental acts such as those on the battlefield.  In addition, people we meet on the street each day are exhibiting courage that lies just below the surface –  dealing with a fear, a first-time event, loneliness or an illness. We are talking common courage, the example being a child jumping off the blocks at a swimming race for the first time.  Taking the plunge to get to the other side of the pool or life for that matter.  We all carry crosses that we bear silently so it is imperative to be kind to one another and to celebrate courage where and when it comes to light.

Today I want to celebrate the courage of those that deal everyday with Diabetes.  This prevalent disease whether it be type 1 or type 2 takes courage and resilience to keep under control.   You must daily face the challenge of balancing your diet, your activity, and your medication.  Even then you may not get the combination just right leading to complications.  My wife and I have been fortunate that we and our kids have not yet to deal with this personally.  But our relatives on both sides have had to deal with it.  It is through their struggles and triumphs that I have witnessed courage first hand.  I want to relay three vignettes that display the everyday courage of those with diabetes.

My Uncle Johnny was a hero of mine growing up and his example still echoes in my heart and mind.  He was a diabetic from his early teens and took insulin from a needle each day.  Despite being diligent with his medication, later in life he lost both of his legs.  But that did not stop him!  I remember one event that will forever define the courage of this good man, example and father.

It was Plebe Parent Weekend at West Point and I was excited because my parents, sister, and other relatives including my Uncle John were coming to see me.  We were going to have an event in Eisenhower Hall back before the days that the American with Disabilities Act was in place.  Even for us with two working legs the stairs of Eisenhower Hall are daunting.  On a hill overlooking the Hudson River, the hall has about 500 steps to reach the entry door or to climb back up.  I still remember my Uncle Johnny hanging with us both for the downward journey to the hall and back up to dinner in the Mess.  You can see the steepness of the steps in this picture.

Steps of Ike Hall Steep
Beginning of the Steps of Ike Hall

500 steps can leave even those with all their limbs breathless.  But Uncle Johnny did it with two wooden legs, strong arms, and a determination to be a part of our lives.

One more humorous story about my Uncle Johnny.  He had taken off his legs to get to painting the low parts of the wall in his living room.  He was just about to finish and go and get his legs when he found one of them gone.  A lesser man would have got upset when he found that my young second cousin who was 6 or 7 at the time had taken the leg and was using it as a makeshift gun in an imaginary game of Army.  Instead my Uncle Johnny just laughed and waited until my cousin was done.

The second person I knew who dealt courageously with diabetes was my father in law – Cal.  Cal lived with diabetes for over 50 years but was still able to raise a family of 10 supporting them as a brick layer and farmer on the family raspberry farm.  Despite his disability, Cal was the most diligent worker that I have ever known.  I still remember the first time I met him trying to impress him by out working him planting potatoes with him and working in the raspberry patch.  Despite being 30 or 40 years my senior he worked me into the ground.  That level of activity with this chronic disease takes discipline, courage and a loving wife and family.  There were several times that Cal despite his diligence did not get his dose right and went into diabetic shock.  Just think of how scary that is.  But each time, his wife Audrey who was a nurse knew what to do and was able to revive him.

In addition to my Uncle and Father-In-Law, Type 1 diabetes has touched the lives of 3 of my nieces and nephews and my cousin who passed away from complications of this disease.  In addition, two of my siblings deal with the daily diligence and courage that it takes to deal with this disease.  Juvenile diabetes is particularly hard with which to deal and takes constant vigilance.  It is particularly hard for a kid to tell his peers that he can’t play until he has something because his sugar is low.  Or has to skip that piece of cake that other kids are having.  Sounds like a little thing but it isn’t.   Please consider donating to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.  Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation

To close, it takes every day courage to deal with Diabetes.  Like the 500 steps that my Uncle Johnny took to get to Ike Hall, it is a courageous climb to fulfill your purpose, while dealing with this chronic disease.  Let’s support those in the workplace with this and other disabilities reach their purpose!

It Takes Courage to Show God’s Smile

This is the first of a series of weekly blogs inspired by my favorite podcast from Father Mike Schmitz.  I introduced this series in my recent blog It Takes Courage in this World.

As Father Mike explained in his podcast, much of life demands  courage.  The everyday sort of courage.  The kind that gets you out of bed to go to work even when you don’t know the ultimate outcome of your presentation.  Or a young swimmer to jump off the blocks for the first time.  To plunge into the deep end of life without exactly knowing how to compete or even get to the other side.   This one image – a young kid learning how to swim and compete for the first time – got me to thinking about one of the bravest people that I know – my cousin Sean. Every day for Sean is a plunge into the unknown, a world that he does not fully understand.  But each day he faces that world armed with the love of his parents and brother.

Sean was born with  a neurological disorder of the brain and nervous system that  has severally impacted his mental development and confined him to a wheelchair from birth.  At 26, he cannot walk, speak, or read a book, but that has not stop him in fulfilling his purpose in the world – to show God’s love and smile.    He goes camping, school each day and even has gone to Disney World to see his favorite character – Minnie Mouse.   Thinking about that, I started to marvel at what courage that takes for Sean.  Unlike the swimmer who takes the blocks for the first time, I am not sure Sean understands where he will end up when he takes the plunge.  How scary it must be when he wakes up at night on occasion and does not see his nurturing parents nearby.  It is more apparent to see the courage of his parents and brother who care for him, feed him, clothe him and calms his fears.  But it is equally brave for Sean to face a world he little understands to bring out a smile and share his love.  Here is a picture of Sean with Minnie and Mickie.

kid with mickie and minne
Sean with his friends Minnie and Mickie

I have not had the pleasure to see Sean that often having moved from my hometown in New Jersey to Texas.  But the times that I have seen him directly, I was awed in his trust in others and his ability to reflect his family’s love.  I will remember always the time I met him face to face for the first time at Mike and Donna’s house in Bordentown.  He did not know me but undeterred crawled over and showed me his Minnie Mouse and toys with a smile.  Again when I visited in 2015 with my wife and daughter, Sean was there with a ready smile to meet some new people and show us his joy.

Indeed, it sometimes takes courage in this life to show God’s smile and reflect the love of your family.  Thank you Sean for showing us always this love.