Friday, November 16, 2012

Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.

I invite you to consider what your handicap is in this life.  “What?” you respond?  “I don’t have a handicap!”  Maybe.  Maybe not.  We all have something that blocks our being all that we can be (which is not just for the Marines!), and doing what we want to do, achieving what we desire the most in life.  Handicaps do not only come in physical form.  A negative attitude handicaps one’s efforts to succeed in or even enjoy one’s job.  Conflicted thinking and actions handicap one’s efforts to lose weight.  “I can’t” handicaps someone who wants to do something really out of their comfort zone, something wild and out there.

As the father of Mike Berkson says, “We all have a wheelchair.”

Wendell Foster’s Campus for Developmental Disabilities recently enjoyed the honor and pleasure of meeting and hosting Handicap This!, and its crew Mike Berkson, Tim Wambach, Dennis Berkson, and Chris Bachmann.  Handicap This! offers a provocative stage performance that tells an incredible story of how two men, Mike and Tim, become friends.  It stirs the senses, challenges your thinking and awakens your attitude while motivating and inspiring by example to live your life as a better you.  Mike was born with cerebral palsy (CP) and defied a doctor’s “prognosis” that he would be unable to do much, much less be able to speak.  By age three, Mike’s expansive vocabulary prompted a visit to the doctor at which time, with a little urging from his mom, Mike told the medical professional, “Quit your day job.”  Mike’s sharp wit, intelligence, and sense of humor detract one’s attention from the physical challenges CP creates within his body.  Mike and Tim develop a friendship over “spilt Taco Bell” which is the beginning of their wild adventure together.  In the show, they personally share their ups and their downs over the last ten years and the lesson learned that no matter the physical, mental or emotional handicap, living life happens through improvisation and adaptation in order to overcome any challenge.  Consider it a less sappy version of Julie Andrews’ Climb Every Mountain.

Over 1100 middle and high school students from mainstream classes and those with special needs attended a school performance of Handicap This! at the RiverPark Center in Owensboro, KY.  WFC’s goal was to educate young people to see past physical appearances and understand the person within the unique body.  Think it is a crazy idea getting this many adolescents together in a room to watch a guy in a wheelchair get his friend to play dead and do somersaults?  After the show, one teacher confided her dread of bringing her students to this performance; yet, she marveled at how teenaged restlessness morphed into a quiet and engaged audience as they intently watched and listened to Mike and Tim share their stories.

Another teacher of students with special needs shared this amazing story that leaves anyone on a mission to change lives (and the world) with goose bumps filled with hopeful possibility:  . . . ironically, right before the show started, several 8th grade students sitting behind us made a derogatory comment about my students who were sitting in wheelchairs. After the performance was over, the four of them apologized to my students and me. I could tell their apology was heartfelt and the performance made an impact on them.

During a Q & A following the public performance, Mike shared his point of view and personal preference for the word “handicap” over the word “disabled.”  For Mike, “disabled” sounded permanent in its limitations.  Merriam-Webster defines “disabled” as being incapacitated in such a way that limits activity.  On the other hand, the word “handicap” reflects room for possibility.  For example, horseracing “handicaps” successfully winning horses with additional weight to their saddles to “even the field” so horses with lesser success (or ability) have a chance to win, thus varying the odds.   The handicap places the successful horse at a disadvantage designed to making its achievement at winning a race unusually difficult; however, its possibility of winning still remains.  Mike states emphatically, “I never dwell on my limitations.  Instead, I ponder unlimited possibilities.”
Mike and Tim master their handicaps by living and teaching their motto, “Improvise.  Adapt. Overcome.”  One teacher witnessed the possibility of teens overcoming their handicap of ignorance to realizing those in wheelchairs are people with feelings just as fragile as their own.  Handicap This! gently dispels barriers as Tim and Mike poignantly share their own unique flavor of personal handicaps in life.  When we strip away the physical aspect of the human body, we reveal the human spirit and realize that no matter the handicap, the potential within each one of us is the same.

So get over your handicap.  Improvise!  Adapt!  Overcome!  If Mike, and countless others living life from a wheelchair can do it, so can you and I walking tall on our own two legs.

In the Next Blog Entry:  Keeping Our Promises - ". . . meet Denise who had no voice . . . . . Josh graduated from high school, WFC renewed its promise to support him in becoming an active and contributing adult in our community. . . . . . Gary’s history with Wendell Foster’s Campus began when he was seven years old . . . . arriving into the care of Mr. and Mrs. Foster in 1953. . . . ."

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