“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through the experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” Helen Keller
“Bad things happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life.” Walter Anderson
Some people are defeated by life. “Why me,” they bemoan while each new self-fulfilling failure becomes a confirmation that life is not fair. They are not wrong about that. Life isn’t always fair. Yet, when we let pain turn us inward as we press the slings and arrows of the world into our hearts, we multiply the injury. It can become the excuse some use to stop trying, give up, and spiral into negativity.
Others equally experience the unfairness of life. Yet, somehow, they mount up upon their sorrows, their injuries and disappointments, and phoenix-like are transformed. The fire of their losses does not consume them. It strengthens their character to burn away imperfection, yet softens their hearts to embrace empathy and live it in ways those with no pain rarely understand. Failure becomes a springboard to success, but more importantly to making them persistent and compassionate, lighting a beacon in them that inspires others.
This week, our granddaughter, Caroline received a Wake County Spotlight Achievement Award as the outstanding student at Apex Middle School. We are so proud of her, certainly for her achievement, but even more for the person she is.
The ceremony celebrated a diverse group of middle school and high school students. Some had been voted their award largely because of academic achievement. Others were selected who had made bad choices and turned their lives around, and accomplished school success. One young man wants to be an Olympic athlete. Another young man had fought brain cancer and was in a wheelchair, but he will graduate from high school this year. All were leaders who inspired others.
Our Caroline was right up there, a recipient for her school success and an inspiration for others in overcoming life’s problems. At 14, Caroline has been dealing with alopecia this year. At this point, she has lost most of her hair. Tough to do at an age when so much is about how you look. At first, she wore hats and, since she has retained hair on the lowest part of her head, she could disguise her disorder.
Caroline went to the ceremony, as she has gone to school since Christmas break, without a hat. She was beautiful. Next month, on March 7th, Caroline will participate in a St. Baldrick event and shave off her remaining hair to raise money for childhood cancer. She has a different empathy than others who will participate. She realizes cancer is worse than alopecia, but she knows first hand at least a small part of the loss. All who participate recognize the issue. That, by itself, is amazing. I applaud them. But, excuse a Nana’s pride, when Caroline’s head is shaved her hair will not return. That takes courage and the willingness to change loss to victory.
One of my proudest moments at the award ceremony was not when she received her plaque, but afterwards. There was a huge crowd and we had to wait to get to her. Then, I saw her speaking to the young man in the wheelchair. I don’t know what she said, but his mother was moved enough to ask her to take a picture of them together. Even in celebration, Caroline looked outward to others. None of the other recipients approached this young man, but she did. She chose to share a moment with him. She truly is amazing. Of course, to us that is no surprise. She always has been.
Success that comes from character is a reward for something that will be a life-long asset. I am sure Caroline will build upon this experience and go on to ongoing success.
So what did she teach me? That courage comes in everyday events. That kindness only takes a moment but can impact a lifetime. That the habit of compassion is an enduring gift. She also reminded me of an inspirational quote I have come to love and have shared with you before, yet, it is worth repeating. “Those who lift a lamp to light the way for another also light their own path.”
Why me? Why not me? Why not you? Why not all of us? We all walk in darkness and need someone to share their light.
Thank you, Caroline.