Tuesday, October 13, 2015

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ― Nelson Mandela

In 1953, some unimportant and very important things happened that affected me.  I was eight years old at the time.  My father was working for Sears, Roebuck in Dallas and loved professional wrestling.  We had one of the first television sets in Dallas so my father could watch wrestling. That year, 1953, he took me to my first and only real wrestling match because it was starring a wrestler known as “Gorgeous George” who wore fantastic outfits and had flower petals strewn in front of him as he walked to the ring (worth Googling to know more).  All I remember was his long hair and the flower petals.  Dad had friends who loved wrestling, too, and often came to our house to watch.  One night, Dad was going over to a friend’s house to watch a match and asked if I wanted to come along as his friend had a little boy about my age.  I was excited to go anywhere with my father, so I readily agreed.  When we got to the man’s house, the Dad's friend took me in to meet his son.  I don’t remember Dad’s friend’s name, or his son’s name, but I will never forget them.  The son was living in an “iron lung” because he had polio (see picture at the right).  In 1953, there were around 30,000 people with polio and about 1,500 had to live in “iron lungs” to breathe for them.  My older brother had a brief brush with polio but no lasting effects.  My older brother’s wife suffered even worse and still has a bad arm from her childhood polio.  The boy’s face brightened when he saw me (he got few visitors and even fewer that were boys around his age).  He had me walk all around the iron lung while he explained what all it did.  Then he had me sit in a chair where he could see me with the mirror that was over his head.  He told me jokes (quite a few were racy—at least to an eight-year-old boy), and we talked about lots of things.  He had lots of questions for me, and we talked and laughed together until my father came to take me home.  I never saw that boy again and don’t know what ever happened to him.  What I do know is that same year, 1953, saw the introduction of the Salk Polio Vaccine and from the 30,000 cases in 1953 the number dropped to just 10 last year.  For all practical purposes, polio is just a memory for those who lived in the years when the March of Dimes telethons were all to raise money to eliminate it.  What I remember is a brave little boy whose spirits were high and whose short time with me serve as a constant reminder that it is not your conditions that bring you down but your reactions to them.  I was never the same after that night.  At the time, polio was considered to be one of the worst things that Americans had to worry about, but I was never afraid of it again.  While we can’t control what happens to us, we can control our responses to it.  Jonas Salk was one of thousands working on a cure and among millions who wanted to see one.  There was a huge demand to find a cure, to fund it, and to make it so that it became nothing but a memory—and all those people who worked to end it did just that.  If only we could put the same kind of unified effort into bringing the love and hope of Jesus Christ into the hearts of darkness that inflict so many in our modern world.  Most of you reading this will never even have seen an iron lung much less known someone who lived in one because we all united to put an end to polio—and we did.  Now if we could do the same for establishing kindness, love, patience, and the service of those in need, wouldn’t Christ welcome us all home with “Well done, my good and faithful servants.”  For me, life will never beat me down because of an hour or two spent with a young boy in an iron lung 62 years ago.  Christ was talking to me that night, it just took me years and years to figure it out, but I know it now.  If we have become prisoners of evil, like being imprisoned in an iron lung, it is because we have allowed ourselves to be—and in some cases helped it along.  Freedom in not a patriotic slogan, it is a mind and soul that know true peace, true love, true compassion, and true understanding.  Unite with others who also believe in the freedom and love that Christ offers and take that fight to the world.  We took on polio and won, and I believe we can do the same with most evil, and I know we can do it in our own hearts if we will but give them to Him who died and rose for us, even us.
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