JJ was (or is – he might still be alive) a man I knew in Texas. He was the father of some high school friends and he had osteomyelitis.
If you don’t know what that is, I don’t either. But in his case … Hold your arms out in front of you, palms down, and imagine some godlike trickster comes along and softens then rehardens your bones, meanwhile bending your forearms sharply upwards at a point about four-fifths of the way from elbow to wrist, subtracting three or four inches of length while he was at it.
It started happening when he was a young man. He had a wife and kids already, and his worklife suddenly seemed over.
But there came a point where this new thing happened in his head, and he discovered something extra inside. By the time I met the family, JJ owned a construction company, liquor stores, meat markets, a couple of planes, his own private airport, and more. Was he worth a couple of million? Three? Five? No idea. But it was enough that he never needed to work again.
And yet he did … I think because that thing that woke up inside him, the discovery that he was more than he’d imagined he could be, felt GOOD. What looked to the rest of us like unceasing toil, to him was something wonderful.
If you believed you were Clark Kent all your life, and one day woke up and discovered you were Superman, would you listen to others telling you that you shouldn’t bother lifting derailed trains because it was too much trouble? Or would you revel in the ability?
JJ went to bed late, got up early, and WORKED. He had to be in pain at times from the stress on his twisted arms, but you’d never know it.
I don’t know that you could put percentages to the difference in someone like JJ and someone more ordinary. It was like night and day. Not so much in what he could do, or how smart he was. But in … the fire inside him. He seemed unstoppable.
That wasn’t because he couldn’t be stopped, I don’t think – he must have had plenty of failures and frustrations along the way. It was because he had determined at last that the thing that stopped him wouldn’t be HIM. Somewhere on the road he’d left behind his own reluctance, his own complacency, his own fears and doubts and weaknesses. Wrapped in determination, he strode forward through life.
Hard work wasn’t toil to him, it was freedom. It was joy. It was a key in the door to everything he needed and wanted and imagined, and there was nothing within him to hold him back. He went at it eagerly every day because the little voice that says “Quit now, this is too hard” had been banished from his head.
When you read stories like this, they always contain that “moment” when the change happens. When the hero or heroine is fed up. Popeye stands up and says “That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more!” Scarlett O’Hara clenches her fists and spits out “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!”
The instant of transformation takes place, and the bowed individual stands up straight, reaches out and takes the world in suddenly powerful hands, and bends it to his will.
Those stories always seem more than a little fishy to me, though, however much I might want to believe them. Partly because I knew JJ Danesworth, I guess, but also simply because the stories themselves seem contrived.
The one thing that always bothered me about them is that the change is never fully by choice of the main character. Instead of a life-change that takes place after a calm moment of thought, it’s always some terrible calamity that forces it. The driving force is always something outside.
In JJ’s case, it might even have been true. But the storyline still sort of offends me because it portrays us as … I don’t know, victims of fate, or targets of divine lightning. Rather than rational people able to transform ourselves out of a simple desire for something better.
The realization I had this morning, along with this image of JJ, was the powerful one that the person he became really is available to all of us. We don’t have to have a catastrophe to force us to grow. JJ wasn’t any better than you and I — and not because he was just as small as the rest of us, but because the rest of us, without knowing it, are so big. Just like JJ, we’re all powerhouses, able to do a great deal more than we do. We don’t have to wait and hope for a transformation to be forced on us from outside.
Just as in JJ’s case, I can’t really say “… and nothing can stop you,” because certainly there are plenty of outside forces that can stop us short of our dreams and goals. If you don’t have the voice, you simply aren’t going to be a famous tenor.
But the forces that MOSTLY stop us short of our dreams are the ones inside us. We never have to face those possibly-insurmountable outside obstacles because the inside obstacles cripple us before we ever start. In the U.S. alone, there must be ten thousand tenors who could rise to the stage and become stars … if they only stopped being stopped by the powerful naysaying resident within them.
That whatever-it-is inside you that stops you is nothing more than a dark story, a lie — the flip side of the fairytale about catastrophe survivors. It’s you constantly telling yourself who you AREN’T, and what you CAN’T do.
But also inside you is the real possibility of transformation, waking up to the daily joy of knowing you have stopped stopping yourself and are becoming the person you want to become. You can wake up every morning eager for the adventure of being, not a “new” you, but the real you.
I believe you and I can determine at last that the thing that stops us won’t be US. Somewhere on the road we can leave behind our own reluctance, our own complacency, our own fears and doubts and weaknesses. With or without some sort of bolt-from-the-blue tragedy, our real lives can start at any moment.
Here. Now. Me. You.
Let’s do this.