Shortcuts to Disabilities
Genius Can Spring From Adversity
by: ABIGAIL VAN BUREN
Dear Readers: Yesterday's column was filled with the names (submitted by my readers) of individuals who managed to succeed against the odds, persevering in the face of life's adversities to become winners. Today's column is a continuation of that list.
Have a thalidomide child born with a dwarfed, twisted body without arms, and you have a Terry Wiles, who, with the aid of mechanical devices, learned to play the electric organ, steer a motorboat and paint.
Amputate the cancer-ridden leg of a handsome young Canadian, and you have a Terry Fox, who vowed to run on one leg across the whole of Canada to raise a million dollars for cancer research. (Terry was forced to quit halfway when cancer invaded his lungs but managed to raise about $20 million.)
Let a British fighter pilot who lost both legs in an air crash fly again with the RAF, and you have a Douglas Bader, who, with two artificial limbs, was captured by the Germans three times during World War II-and escaped three times.
Blind a man with musical talent, and you have a Ray Charles, George Shearing, Stevie Wonder, Tom Sullivan, Alec Templeton or Hal Krents.
Label a child as "too stupid to learn," and you have a Thomas Edison.
Make a man a "hopeless" alcoholic, and you have Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Tell a woman she's too old to start painting at 80, and you have a Grandma Moses.
Afflict a talented artist with periods of depression so severe that he cut off his own ear, and you have a Vincent Van Gogh.
The list would not be complete without a smiling Max Cleland, who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam and formerly headed the Veterans Administration in Washington. He is now serving as a Democratic U.S. senator from Georgia.
Don't forget Patricia Neal, the fine actress who suffered a severe stroke but rehabilitated herself against overwhelming odds.
Blind a man at age 44, and you have John Milton, who, 16 years later, wrote "Paradise Lost."
Call a child dull and hopeless and flunk him in the sixth grade, and you have a Winston Churchill.
Punish a girl with poverty and prejudice, and she may survive to become another Golda Meir.
Pit a woman with a talent for science against sexual discrimination, and you have another Madame Curie.
Tell a young boy who loved to sketch and draw that he has no talent, and you have a Walt Disney.
Take a crippled child whose only home he ever knew was an orphanage, and you have a James E. West, who became the first chief executive of the Boy Scouts of America.
Rate a boy as "mediocre" in chemistry, and you have a Louis Pasteur.
Deny a child the ability to see, hear and speak, and you have a
Make someone a second fiddle in an obscure South American orchestra, and you have a Toscanini.
Not all disabilities are visible. And not all who have won against the odds are well -known celebrities.
Every family has its own heroes and heroines for whom there is no medal distinguished enough to reward them for their accomplishments. It is to you, whose names do not appear here but deserve to, that I dedicate this column.
Dear Abby - Wednesday June 25, 1997
TALES OF OVERCOMING ODDS,
by Abigail Van Buren,
INSPIRE OTHERS TO SUCCEED
Copyright 1997, Universal Press Syndicate
DEAR ABBY: I've kept a column of yours for more than a decade. It dealt with famous people who had to overcome life's adversities to become outstanding winners. Mine is so worn, I can barely read parts of it. I tried to make a copy, but it didn't come out very well. Will you
please print it again?
EVELYN MCKINNON EASTPOINTE, MICH.
DEAR EVELYN: The column you're refering to was a two-parter. My
readers had submitted names of individuals who managed to succeed
against the odds. I think it's well worth repeating. Read on:
DEAR READERS: In a recent column, I shared an item sent by Herman
Endler, who, at age 40, suffered a stroke that left him totally
disable. He wrote:
"I wasn't able to get out of bed, but by the grace of God and a
surgeon's skill, I made it. At times I was so despondent, I prayed it
would all end. Then a friend gave me the enclosed inspirational
peace, which I must have read 1,000 times. There were moments when I
thought, 'This is it; this is the end.' Then I'd read the message
again, and it pulled me through."
"Abby, some of the greatest men and women of our times have been
saddled with disabilities and adversities but have managed to overcome
"Perhaps somewhere there is someone who is at the end of his or her
rope and needs encouragement. Pass this along. It may save a life.
It saved mine."
A portion of the inspirational piece:
"Bury him in the snows of Valley Forge, and you have a George
"Raise him in abject poverty, and you have an Abraham Lincoln."
"Subject him to bitter religious prejudice, and you have Disraeli."
The response to that column was overwhelming. A distinquished
publisher, philanthropist and former US ambassador to Great Britain
Dear Abby: Your column, 'From Adversity, Many Find Strength,' is
indeed a masterpiece. I am adding it to my personal collection of
"There are two great sources of inspiration in life, enthusiasm and
tragedy, and I have been boxed in by both. But having been boxed in
by both, I also recognize that perseverance is the key to escape and
satisfaction. Sincerely, Walter Annenberg"
Hundreds of readers submitted additional names for the list of those
who had succeeded against the odds. Some contributions:
Spit on him, humiliate him, then crucify him and he forgives you, and you have Jesus Christ.
Strike him down with infantile paralysis, and he becomes a Franklin D. Roosevelt, the only president of the United States to be elected to four terms.
When he is a lad of 3, burn him so severely in a schoolhouse fire that the doctors say he will never walk again, and you have Glenn Cunningham, who set the world's record in 1934 for running a mile in 4 minutes, 6.8 seconds.
Have him or her born black in a society filled with racial discrimination, and you have a Booker T. Washington, Harriet Tubman, Marian Anderson, George Washington Carver or Martin Luther King Jr.
Make him the first child to survive in a poor Italian family of 18 children, and you have an Enrico Caruso.
Have him born of parents who survived a Nazi concentration camp, paralyze him from the waist down when hie is 4, and you have the incomparable concert violinist Itzhak Perlman.
Call him a slow learner "retarded" and write him off as ineducable, and you have an Albert Einstein.
(See tomorrow's column for others who have succeeded against the
Taken from a DEAR ABBY column by Abigail Van Buren. Dist. by UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. To reach Abigail Van Buren, write to Dear Abby, P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.
Permission Granted for Reprint by: Vande Haar, S.M. (1997) Dear Abby [INTERNET].
Available: http:www.uexpress.com [1997, JULY 31].
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