We are All the Same and Yet Different

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Jerry Johnston, Deseret News, March 26, 2002

I’m fat, I’m thin, I’m short, I’m tall
I’m blind, I’m deaf
Hey, aren’t we all?

---Peter, Paul, and Mary

Last Tuesday, the Deseret News ran a front page photo of three Paralympic medalists celebrating their conquest.  It made me marvel at how successfully they’ve overcome their disabilities and just how unsuccessful I’ve been in overcoming mine.

When courage, action and compassion are called for, many of us often freeze up.  We can’t move.  Our hands, eyes, and feet might just as well be painted on.

In short, we become disabled. 

More than once I’ve found myself in the wrong place at the wrong time; but when I tried to leave, my legs seemed made of stone.  They were useless.  They might as well have been tree trunks.

Other times I know I should have extended a hand to help somebody, but didn’t.  My hands dangled at the end of my arms.

There were times I needed to listen closely, but didn’t.  I was deaf. 

And a good deal of the time I walk around totally blind to the world, simply refusing to see the beauty before my eyes.

In his autobiography, “Treasure in Clay,” Fulton J. Sheen—the popular “television priest” from the 60’s—wrote about such disabilities.  In fact, there is an Easter message in the book, and with Easter on the horizon, his thoughts about our human “handicaps” bear repeating.  Sheen says when he sees Jesus on the cross, he sees his own personal frailties there.

“In the crown of thorns,” he writes.  “I see my pride; my grasping for earthly toys in the pierced hands; my flight from shepherding care in the pierced feet; my wasted heart and my prurient desires in the flesh hanging from him like purple rags.”

In short, “I’m blind, I’m deaf—hey, aren’t we all?”

That’s where the Paralympics come in.  They show us that disabilities—ours as well as theirs—actually have more to do with the strength of our character than the strength of our bodies.  And the crippling of the will is a hundred times more serious than any crippling of the body.

When we lose one of our members, we can learn to compensate and win. When we lose our willpower, however, we simply lose.

And so, as I look at those three women on the cover of the Deseret News, I think, “They’ve just aced a stand-up amputee skiing competition.  I have two good legs and sometimes can’t bring myself to walk away from the television.”  Yet the thought isn’t depressing.  It’s encouraging.

If they can, I can.

For, in the end, the Paralympic Games aren’t about our differences.  They’re about how we’re so much alike.

We are all in the same boat.  Like the words to the song “Don’t Laugh at Me” at the top of this column.

That song, by the way, is an anthem of the summer Special Olympics.  Peter, Paul, and Mary sang it the last time they were in town.  It’s been made into a video now.  People like to listen to it over and over.

In fact, truth to tell, I could have simply jotted down the last two lines of the song’s chorus and summed up in a dozen words what I’ve been trying to say in 500.

In God’s eyes
We’re all the same.
Someday we’ll all
Have perfect wings.