Know that even the smallest kind word can have the biggest impact on someone’s life.
Understand that you have the ability to inspire on a daily basis. And you do this all the time, but you somehow fail to see it.
Know that something you gave away, like something as simple as a quick and meaningless smile has the ability to be meaningful to someone else. This makes you a gift to those around you.
Same as misery is contagious—so is your spirit. Know that you being who you are means everything to someone else. Know that inspiration can come from any direction. It can come from someone of any age, financial or ethnic background, and experience. Believe me on this one.
Inspiration has nothing to do with wealth or popularity. In fact, most inspiration comes from the humble or the meek. I find my inspiration comes from those who understand how to survive without wealth rather than those who can survive with everything they ask for.
I watched a man give a speech in an auditorium to high school students. This man had no arms or legs. He discussed his disabilities at great length before falling forward.
Lying flat on his chest, the speaker showed how far down he could fall. Next, in a display of true inspiration, the man with no arms or legs showed that he could regain his position and lift himself from the ground.
I have seen people with both arms and legs fall to the ground. With all their advantages in life, with all their money, their fancy gadgets, with their friends, and their family; I have seen people fall with every benefit in the world; however, I have never seen anyone regain their posture as gracefully as the man with no arms and legs.
In a time of my own darkness; my friends were mostly gone, my family seemed too busy or uninterested in problems aside from their own—I felt so alone that in my sadness, I questioned my ability to endure and nearly resigned to failure as well as a self-inflicted ending.
I saw myself in a hole or lost in a personal vacuum. Though I could see outside and feel the sun on my face; I felt as if I were caged and kept away from the rest of the world. I felt locked up, and held captive, as if I was a prisoner, trapped in the bondage of my own mind.
Your vivid colors were less vibrant to me. Your smiles and cheer were distant and too far away for me to comprehend or see as anything more than temporary. The idea of inner peace was too impossible to consider and the concept of satisfaction was more accurately a fairy tale than something I could achieve.
It is true.
I had a roof above my head. I had a place to sleep and clothes to wear. There was food on my table with excess to spare, and whether the rooms in my house were few or many, the pit in my heart kept me blind to what I had. At the time, what I had seemed meaningless. To me, there were those with much less than me, yet somehow, the seemed have so much more. I was valueless and unworthy. I was empty and lost. With nothing left inside, no drive, no resolve, and no heart left to endure; I was at my lowest as if I fell down onto a deep hole and finally hit bottom.
I once listened to a man lecture about his time in “The Hole,” during the years he spent in the prison called Alcatraz. I have written about this to you before and I write about this again to act as a reminder for myself that inspiration can be found even in the darkest of places.
The old prisoner talked about the darkness he saw, which was darker than most men could understand. He described the cold and the horrible smell that lingered in his isolated cell of solitary confinement.
They called this place “The Hole” because there was literally a hole in the floor, which is where the prisoners relived themselves.
In a room without any source of light or movement of fresh air, there was no way to see this hole in the floor. There was no way to hide from the smell and no way to run from the fact that as an inmate, you were locked in this small room and treated like the excrement that soiled the floor beneath you.
After describing the dankness of the prison cell, the man explained how he defended himself in a place like this.
The inmate fell to his knees. Then the inmate ripped one of the buttons from his shirt. Next, the inmate placed the button on top of his thumbnail, flipping the small shirt button over his shoulder in the pitch black air. He waited for the button to fall to the ground. Sometimes the inmate could hear the button hit the ground and other times he could not.
After tossing the button, the inmate searched the floor on his hands and knees, which was covered in filth, blood, urine, and even shit. The inmate searched the floor until he found the button. After he found it—the inmate would place the button back on top of his thumbnail and flip it over his shoulder again.
The inmate explained, “They took my time. They took my freedom and they too my space away from me. But I wasn’t going to let them take my mind.”
He explained, “The only way to save my mind was to keep it occupied.” The idea was this: man can take away literally everything, but the presence of mind can be saved so long as it is not given away. In simple terms, the inmate replaced thought with action.
Replace thought with action. This is an act that has saved me from myself and saved my life on more than one occasion. Firmly, I say there is no prison worse than the prison in our own minds. However, if a man can find freedom in a place as degrading as “The Hole,” then we can find freedom in our life as we know it.
In my life as I have it now, I find myself in troubled times. I have difficulties understanding why things work as they do. I struggle. I have insecurities and doubts. I have difficulties understanding my value and worth. I struggle and see myself as less than. I question everything. I question the intentions of loved ones the same as I question the motives of my enemies. In my life as I have it now, there are times when I feel as if I am caged. Though I can see outside and feel the sun on my face; there are times when I as if I am in a hole of my own.
In times like this, I need to remember to be like the inmate and find my button. I need to remember to occupy my mind rather than abandon it the inaccurate thoughts and the emotional impulse that drag me down.
I am not too proud to find inspiration. Inspiration comes in many forms and I know this for certain.
I once saw a woman on the Downtown 1 train. She appeared oddly dressed. Her skin was dark and wrinkled like a grandmother’s. The woman stood behind a rickety laundry cart, which was stuffed with several shopping bags stuffed in other shopping bags. She wore a blue rain coat and a clear shower cap. Her gray afro appeared matted and unkempt.
The woman stared straight ahead. She did not speak. She did not look left or right. After stopping at a station, several passengers left the train with only a few new passengers boarding. The doors closed and in the midst of subway silence; the old woman opened her mouth and began to sing, “Amazing Grace,” as if she herself was an Angel from Heaven.
As beautiful and moving as the old woman sounded, she refused any all donations. She refused to look any of the other passengers in the eye. All she did was look straight ahead. She did not speak. She only sung. And when she finished, the oddly dressed woman sighed as if the song was a relief. There was sadness in her eyes, and loneliness as well, which were emotions that came out clearly by the sound of her beautiful voice. Maybe the oddly dressed just needed o do it. Maybe she wasn’t homeless at all. Maybe she was tired of the way things are. Maybe she was overwhelmed and rather than give in, she decided to sing and change the facial expressions on everyone sitting in the subway car.
Inspiration can come from anywhere . . .
even on the Downtown 1 train during rush hour