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How You Choose To Be.   Leave a comment

When I was born just over 48 years ago, I came out a little off.  I was a mostly healthy baby with one glaring exception.  On my left leg my foot was malformed.  The foot was curled up such that my big toe actually touched my ankle.  It’s a condition known as clubbed foot.

Thankfully it wasn’t as bad as it sounds.  I was born at just the right time.  The defect was correctable to a certain extent by surgery.  If you look at my left foot sans sock and shoe you can see it’s different.  And I don’t mean just because of the scar that runs across the top.  It’s shaped differently then my right foot.  And there’s an indentation on top near the ankle joint on the left hand side.  But aside from the cosmetic difference it functions mostly as well as my right ankle.  It’s just easier to twist and if I go too hard on it the ankle will hurt and stay sore for days.  It used to be worse when I was heavier and it was sore all the time to varying degrees.

On one such occasion it actually did something it had never done before.  The pain started climbing up my shin.  I’d gotten used to the normal pain coming from it. I’d actually tune it out a lot of the time until I did something to tweak it.  But if I paid attention to the ankle I would notice the pain.  This time I didn’t have to pay attention, the pain up the shin got my attention.  Knowing I had a “bad ankle” made me feel very concerned about what I may have done to cause the pain to reach the shin so I decided to go to the podiatrist to have it looked at.

He looked at some x-rays of it and physically examined it.  He asked me about a usual day at work to get an idea of what could be the issue.  I told him that I worked 10 hour shifts and could wind up standing for as much as 8 hours of it. He said based on his examination I shouldn’t be able to do that.  I shrugged my shoulders at him and replied, “well I do.”  He responded that why I was experiencing the pain was pretty simple.  It was kinda cool, yet kinda disconcerting.  He said that my ankle was maybe 10% useable so there really wasn’t much of anything I could do to damage it more by just walking on it.  He also said that because it was only 10% useable and I was standing on it all day I was wearing down the other muscles which had to compensate for it and that was causing the pain.  So good news was I wasn’t hurting anything, bad news was not hurting anything really hurt.

What he said next has stuck with me for the years since this event happened.  He told me that as my left ankle was less than 10% useable that meant my left leg would be viewed as less then 10% useable.  According to the state of Alaska, where I lived at the time, that made me disabled.  Because of my ankle I was qualified to go on public assistance in the state of Alaska due to my disability.

Here’s the thing.  I’m not disabled.  For over three decades prior to being told I was disabled I had been living my life without a disability.  This wasn’t denial, or refusing to be labelled.  Or not being able to accept being disabled.  That’s not what I’m saying at all.  What I mean is that while my ankle may have hurt more as I did more, I was never in a position where I felt I wasn’t able to do the things I wanted.

In the podiatrist’s office I was being offered to have the state of Alaska pay for my life.  I met the criteria for getting those benefits.  I wouldn’t be lying.  I wouldn’t be cheating.  It would all be very proper and legal.

But for me it would be wrong.  I knew I didn’t need that.  I knew my “disability” didn’t stop me from holding my job or earning a living on my own.  So if I said yes and filled out the paperwork I’d be getting money that in my mind I didn’t deserve.  Money that then couldn’t go to help someone who actually needed the assistance.  That’s not who I wanted to be.

In life we’re all offered choices about how we will act in different situations.  Someone does you wrong, physically or emotionally.  They’ve given you cause for anger.  They’ve given you cause for vengeance.  But ask yourself, who do you want to be?  Maybe one of your coworkers is an under-performer and the bosses let him get away with it.  Why should you work hard if he doesn’t have to?  But ask yourself, who do you want to be?  You get to your car and realize that the cashier at the store you were just shopping at gave you more change then you deserved.  It’s not your fault.  You didn’t do anything wrong.  It really isn’t your mistake to fix.  But ask yourself, who do you want to be?

No matter what the circumstance you always have a choice of how you choose to be.  Choose to be the best version of yourself in each situation.  Your future self will thank you for it.  Have a nice day.

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