During the eulogy for Senator Ted Kennedy by his oldest son, Ted Kennedy, Jr., the son offered this story:
“When I was twelve years old I was diagnosed with bone cancer, and a few months after I lost my leg there was a heavy snowfall over my childhood home outside of Washington, D.C. My father went to the garage to get the old Flexible Flyer and asked me if I wanted to go sledding down the steep driveway … I slipped and fell on the ice and started to cry and I said, “I can’t do this.” I said, “I’ll never be able to climb that hill.” And he lifted me up in his strong, gentle arms and said something I’ll never forget. He said, “I know you can do it; there is nothing you can’t do. We’re going to climb that hill together, even if it takes all day.” As I climbed on his back and we flew down the hill that day, I knew he was right. I knew I was going to be okay. You see, my father taught me that even our most profound losses are survivable. And it is what we do with that loss, our ability to transform it into a positive event, that is one of my father’s greatest lessons.”
I’ve been writing a lot lately about our ability to survive our difficulties and how to transform them into positive events. But that’s not what this posting is about. Rather, when I read this story, what moved me the most was the father’s act of climbing up the hill with his child, then putting him on his back and flying down together.
It’s so easy to focus on being Teddy Jr. We all have our own difficulties that take our time and attention. It’s easy to fall into despair or give up. But today, instead, think of who in your life needs your strength and companionship? Who needs you to hold the faith they can make it even if they can’t yet believe it?
There is a famous story about Karl Menninger the founder of the Menninger clinic. A man came to him one day and said he was suffering from depression and didn’t know what to do. “Go out of your house, cross the tracks, and help someone less fortunate than you,” advised the esteemed psychiatrist.
When we focus on what we can give rather than what we can get, we connect to our power, to the talents and resources we have to help. We experience, research shows, the gifts of kindness—a happiness boost due to the release of dopamine in our brains and a strengthened immune system. And, perhaps the greatest gift of all—an enhanced ability to turn and face our own challenges with greater optimism and faith, less depression, pain and sense of isolation.
Who needs your sturdy back today?