Overcoming Disabilities & Hardship | Inspirational Stories

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Today’s reading has been edited and adapted from A Cheerful Philosophy for Thoughtful Invalids by William Horatio Clarke, published in 1896.

As a member of the family of afflicted ones, and with the sincere desire of helping and adding a few rays of comfort and hope to our imprisoned lives, I wish to communicate cheerful and practical thoughts which are the outgrowth of my own years of physical suffering.

Instead of burdening your mind with quotations from ancient maxims, I will try to use a rational philosophy, and ignore my past bitter experiences, hoping for the good which may yet be derived from them, so that many others may be aided from the result of trials which have been so burdensome.

Our lives were not made in vain, and they will not be failures. Instead of despairing, we may be filled with hope. The pain which we suffer is the indication of life seeking to enter and restore, whether in our mental or physical organizations.

Without referring to the causes of our affliction (whether from hereditary tendencies, diseases, or through accidents), there is something for us yet to say or do which may render the influence of our lives a blessing to those with whom we are brought into contact, even though in some cases the prospects for our physical restoration may be hopeless.

As the bruising of fragrant flowers causes them to give forth a more ethereal aroma, so in our own lives, the good qualities may be brought forth by means of the afflictions which seem to press the life out of us. The corn is ground to obtain the meal, and the wheat for the flour. The maple-tree is tapped for its sap, and the sugar-cane is crushed for its syrup and saccharine crystals. The quartz is pulverized for the gold and silver, while the ore is purified by fire.

Through such processes is the immortal nature in which our real individuality resides often developed and made useful, and it is thus saved from the changes connected to the disorganization of the physical body; for we exist as individuals, independent of the apparently adverse conditions of the earthly frame.

The object for which we were created is the development and attainment of a true character in which every virtue shall prevail; and such a character must be ours, notwithstanding our frail physical constitutions. The virtues are developed through trials and temptations. Honesty is proved by not yielding to fraud, deceit, and dishonesty. Purity is developed through the combat when immoral temptations are resisted, and patience is attained through the long endurance of suffering.

To those of us who are confined to the boundaries of our rooms, so familiar with every crack in the ceiling overhead and weary of forming faces and new patterns from the outlines of the figured wall-paper, it is impossible to realize that we are journeying through space on a revolving earth at the rate of nearly seventy thousand miles an hour. Yet we are travelling onward daily and yearly toward the object for which we were created, which, through every hindrance, will certainly be accomplished, as surely as the earth revolves on its axis through its orbit, bringing the annual New Year — notwithstanding the many mistakes which we have made.

We are not to look backward, and lament the dead things of the foolish past. Our work is before us, yet to be accomplished; and the errors we made were simply stepping-stones in our ascent, to reveal to us not only our weaknesses and infirmities, but to guide us to the Source of life and strength. We who so deeply feel our helplessness do not need to be taught that our lives are not our own, and that we do not exist from any law or power in and of ourselves; for we feel our dependence upon the Infinite Life from whom we came, in whom we exist, and to whom we are returning, as recipients of the Divine Influence.

George Osborne was a brilliant pianist and professional musician. While on a concert tour in the West, he was the victim of a fearful railway collision in which his spine was so injured that the lower half of his body was paralyzed for life. It was thought best that he should become the permanent inmate of a large hospital, where he could receive the best of professional care without his feeling that he might be a burden to others.

It was a hard blow for such a healthy and active young man to surrender all his musical ambition and hope of prosperity; but when he realized the inevitable condition of his earthly future, he began to develop heroic qualities. Instead of repining at his lot, he studied every way to devise some method by which he could utilize his talents in benefiting the other patients of the institution to which he had been assigned.

He possessed a voice of rare beauty, and his affliction did not deprive him of the power of singing. He was determined to use that one talent in a direction which would make him helpful to his fellow-sufferers. So he was moved from ward to ward, and daily beguiled the painful hours of the other invalids. He sang comforting songs and hymns of hope to those around him, and not only thus kept his lungs in healthy exercise, but took delight in looking forward to years of usefulness in helping his feeble companions to make the best of their misfortunes.

Many a fainting soul became courageous when they crossed the stream to the great beyond, listening to the tones of that rich voice blending with their vanishing spirits. Not only was his voice a comforter in song, but he so strove to forget his own trials that he cheered the discouraged ones with brave words of hope and trust born from his own experiences, and stimulated his despairing listeners with strength as they were led to look forward.

Thus, instead of living an artificial life built upon the adulations of a heartless public, his career developed into a noble and true life of blessing, which, instead of being lost in despair, was one of constant and cheerful growth.

To assist others, we must develop our personal magnetism — for personal magnetism is the good influence we exert upon others through the exercise of self-control. The tendency of mental or bodily afflictions often causes one to become irritable and complaining, a condition which we must overcome. It requires constant effort to obtain sufficient self-control to withhold expressions of irritation when in poor health, and to supplant their place with smiles.

But in the forced effort to look pleasant and speak gently, we shall be taking steps upward toward the suppression of peevish utterances and signs of fretfulness. When we give expression to our irritable feelings, the influence emanating therefrom is harmful upon those on whom we are dependent for so many needful attentions.

It is not an easy task for a well person to be constantly in the society of a complaining invalid, and fretful words are sometimes resented as unkind and unappreciative on the part of the one for whom irksome attendance is being rendered. Selfishness is just as much a fault with invalids as with those who are in good health. No good is accomplished by complaining and craving for a sympathy which cannot be given.

Only those who have experienced kindred suffering can extend sincere commiseration. It is harmful to continually turn one’s thoughts upon self, and make that self the chief topic of conversation. It feeds pain to think and speak of it, and to tell the same old story over and over to well persons who cannot understand it. Instead of enlisting compassion, it causes repulsion and the loss of heartfelt friendship, and that personal magnetism by which we may aid others.

An invalid has just as much of a character to develop as a stalwart athlete, and has as much selfishness to subdue as though brought into conflict with the strife of the business world. Therefore there is plenty of work to be done in this direction; and we have an excellent opportunity to examine the motive of each word and action before giving it utterance or expression.

The object of this self-control is to enable us to exert a good influence upon others, and it is a process which will never have a termination. There is not a person who visits us, but whom we may be able to help in a way which the occasion may indicate. We are not to assume sanctimonious faces and utter cant phrases, but we should enter into whatever interests our friends concerning their own lives, where we can help them the most.

When they call upon us from motives of kindness, we can meet them half-way, by giving out from our own lives something which will strengthen them, and lead them to visit us again. We may be able to exert such a helpful influence that they will always depart with lighter hearts, and with greater faith in the quiet and conservative principles which actuate our motives, which are founded upon that spirit of love by which the world is made better.

Friendship is based upon a reciprocal influence. The exercise of a loving spirit creates an affection in return, and we must say those good and true things to others which we would like to have them say to us.

Remember that our journey through life is much like that of a journey across the Atlantic. While we are on the ship, we place our lives in the care of the captain, in the expectation of arriving safely on the other side. We have absolute confidence that our captain understand the nature of the winds, the various currents, and the tides, the shoals and rocks, and how to pilot the vessel through the most violent storms.

We have faith that he knows the strength of the ship, the reliability of the machinery, and that the rudder will obey the wheel. We have no doubt of his caution in running through banks of fog, or in steering clear of icebergs, nor of his skill in avoiding collisions. When darkness settles down over the face of the deep mysterious waters, we retire ourselves to our cabins, and sleep without fear.

We do not continually run to the captain and ask him why he does this, or why he does not do that. We believe that he knows all the ropes — that he understands his charts and the deviations of the compass; and we do not daily reproach him with the fear that we shall never arrive in port. If we should spend each hour of the voyage in fretting and worrying about these matters which we do not understand, he will yet guide the ship safely into anchorage without our aid, notwithstanding our making ourselves and everybody else uncomfortable.

Our distrust would not affect the captain nor make him unfaithful, but it would simply react upon ourselves, and bring us into an inharmonious condition in relation to the laws of order. In the voyage of life, when we are filled with fear and anxiety, we forget that we are in the guidance of the Captain of the Universe, who is sailing our vessel to a sure port.

Through Divine Guidance the little birds are fed, and their wants are all supplied while they are taught to provide for themselves and their young. The same Power causes the flowers to grow in their delicate beauty, each species according to its order.

When we look up at the starry heavens, let us recognize that the planets of the universe are not running wild in their orbits; and our lives are of such importance that the vessel will not founder, for the Pilot is guiding, whether we are conscious of a Divine presence or not, and we shall safely arrive in that country for which we have so long been preparing, and where our ideals will be realized.


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