A few years ago I had the opportunity to attend an “Employment and Education Symposium”. It was an event to recognize local businesses and individuals who truly were making a difference in furthering the interests of people with all abilities. Awards were given to different individuals, but there was person by the name of Derek Lewis, founder of Red Arrow Digital College, who really stood out for me.
In late 1990, Mr. Lewis ended up in hospital, close to death, after being stabbed repeatedly while trying to break up a fight inside a Dartmouth apartment building. He was a high school student at the time.
In an interview for Nova Scotia Business Journal, Mr. Lewis had this to say: “After you’ve been on a respirator, after you’ve learned how to walk again, after you continue to live with a disability, there are so many different ways that you can sit there and say ‘how poor my life is’. But instead of moping, Mr. Lewis said he looked at each day as a new challenge. “It’s all up to you. Just win the day.”
Mr. Lewis was recognized for his accomplishments at the event I attended, and the message in his acceptance speech was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Since that night it has stayed with me, and is a message that I share on every opportunity that I get. I only hope I can do it justice! Those who were in attendance that night will fully appreciate what I mean when I say that.
Mr. Lewis shared a story about a conversation he had with a friend of his, after he was out of the hospital. His friend asked him how he had managed to find the strength to get through everything. He said it was like waking up in the ocean, and there is nothing but you, the water, and the sun. You tell yourself “OK I’m just going to take one more breath, and then I’m done,” and you take that breath. Then you say “OK, one more just one more and then I’ll be finished.” And you take that breath. Then you tell yourself, “You know what, that wasn’t a very good breath. I don’t want to go out on a bad note, so I have to take just one more.” And you continue to do this with each breath. And gradually, instead of breaths you start counting each hour, then each day, and eventually you work your way up to each month.
His friend said “Yes, but you can’t do that forever.” Mr. Lewis replied with, “You don’t have to. You only have to do that until someone comes to find you, and someone ALWAYS does come to find you. It could be friends, or family, or an agency, or someone you’ve never met before. But someone always does come.”
And this was the core message that he wanted to convey to everyone in attendance that day. There are numerous people out in the world feeling like they are stranded with just them, the water, and the sun. It could be a disability, aging, loneliness, a terminal illness, or the early onset of dementia. They are fighting each day to keep their heads above water, focusing on each breath they take, and waiting. As family, friends, caregivers, volunteers with agencies, or just members of the human race, it is our mission to reach out. When people come together, a greater good is created. Even the smallest gesture on the part of a person pure of heart can mean a world of difference to someone in need. It is within all of us to stand and say, “Hang on. You’re not alone. I am coming.”