“Be kinder than necessary, because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”
I’ve been thinking lately about all the amazing people I’ve had the good fortune of meeting over the years of traveling and exploring. A lot of my friends have incredible stories, and when they share their stories with me I have always learned a lesson or grown in some capacity. By practicing storytelling, just as our ancestors did, we pass along valuable wisdom through the generations. We help each other become better, stronger people.
I want to share these unsung stories to the world, to show that everyone around us has a lesson to teach, or wisdom to pass on. My hope is to empower the people telling their stories to unearth their inner teacher so that they can enrich the world by sharing their experiences. For my readers, I hope that you find something relatable, raw and beautiful in each story, and that you carry and pass on what each person has to teach. Every story is valuable, and every time the story is shared, it has the capacity to change the people and the world that it touches.
The first conversation Gareth and I had was about positivity.
He believed once, like many do, that our choices are limited to the polarities of positive and negative, happy or sad, optimistic or pessimistic. Even though we know that one is more beneficial for us than the other, we still create the dichotomy and give ourselves the option to choose. Am I an optimist or a pessimist? Will today be a good day or will it be a bad day? Gareth, on the other hand, believes that the only choice is that there isn’t a choice. Why would we choose to be sad when we could be happy instead? He resolved to not even give himself the option of pessimism or sadness. No complaining, no negativity, no feeling bad for himself or being down. After awhile, the option between sadness and happiness simply stopped existing. There was only happiness.
Less than sixth months ago, Gareth was run over by a train and spent two weeks in the hospital with a broken back and an amputated leg, but for him, there is only happiness.
The doctors told him that he had been drinking next to the train tracks on a Friday night. They told him he most likely jumped on the back of a slow moving train, but botched his dismount and hit his head on the train tracks which knocked him unconscious. They told him that he lay unconscious on the tracks for half an hour before the next train came. The conductor told him that he saw him covered in blood and laying limp in the path of the train. What Gareth remembers is waking to the sound of the horn, and crawling weakly out of the way, just far enough to avoid getting cut in half. He remembers waking again in a hospital bed, not knowing how he got there, and having to listen to the doctors tell him that he had lost his leg.
I didn’t know Gareth very well at the time of his accident. I remember our mutual circle of friends rallying around him the day after it happened. I remember photos of him unconscious in a hospital bed, and later of him at a feeble 125 pounds, looking like a shell of his former shelf in a hospital gown. But throughout following his recovery on Facebook, the memory that is clearest is that never once did he show even the slightest bit of negativity. He jokingly posted a photo of himself wearing an Urban Outfitters sock that made it look like a shark was eating his leg. He proudly showed the world his post-surgery body, looking healthier than ever, and wrote, “10 days later… feeling pretty great. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the expert spinal surgeon and the beast who cleaned my leg so well. Definitely my proudest self shot ever. One step at a time.” And later he shared a photo of him doing a pull-up on a door frame, saying, “Fine, I don’t need a gym! Practicing crimps for the climbing season. I get fitted for my new leg next Thursday… Things are about to start moving a lot faster in my world!”
Many people believe that in order to fully transform into the person we are meant to be, we must experience a “dark night of the soul.” This is an unexplainable, soul shattering, deeply disruptive event that invalidates the meaning that our lives had before. Everything changes, and many things that you once held value to become meaningless. Some people call this falling into depression, but the feeling goes much deeper. The challenge of this dark night of the soul is to decide how you will respond. You can choose to be a victim and let it defeat you, or you can use it as an opportunity for rebirth and growth.
A beautiful thing that happens during a dark night of the soul is that your reality becomes meaningless. Eckhart Tolle calls it “conceptual meaningless.” Others call it “tabula rasa” – wiping the slate clean. Once you embrace the fact that every meaning you once held has completely dissolved, you can begin to create your own reality without trying to fit your experience into a conceptual framework. You are free.
After the accident, Gareth found himself in a position where he was free to recreate his reality, and recreate his life. Rather than believing that he had lost something and feeling sorry for himself, he was able to look at things from the perspective that he was given an opportunity. He didn’t lose his old life, he simply gained a “tabula rasa” – the chance to begin again.
When I asked him how his perspective shifted, Gareth told me, “I see opportunities with more value now. I don’t want to pass something up with hope that something better is going to come along after. Basically now I feel like I have to find my calling. I need to get my goals in order. Life is too short to drift by just doing what you enjoy in the moment. I didn’t really think much about people who sit around and don’t have any tangible accomplishments, but now I see that as literally the worst thing you could do with your life. Go learn, go absorb as much knowledge as you possibly can, go build yourself a bike, go volunteer at an organic farm, go learn a new trade or a new hobby. Sitting on your ass and watching people live through a television or through your computer now will come back to haunt you when you’re old and can no longer get up and walk outside. Or even when you’re young and can’t walk. I see opportunities with more value now. I don’t want to pass something up with hope that something better is going to come along after.”
There’s a quote that says: “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” It’s corny, but it’s true. I feel ashamed that at one point I heard what had happened to Gareth and thought, “That’s terrible. He must be in such a bad place right now.” My automatic assumption was that because he had lost a physical part of himself, that he would lose his strength and spirit too. I know that myself, along with many others, would have crumbled under the pressure of this dark night of the soul. Many people simply don’t have the mental power to be the masters of their own minds. They let negativity and self deprecation devour them, and they live unfulfilled lives because of that. Gareth is a living testament to the power of positive thinking. Even when he was faced with his own dark night of the soul, never once did he look at himself as having a disability or a reason to play victim. As such, no one around him sees that disability either. If anything, he is more complete than he was before.
Gareth’s story serves as a reminder that, even in the darkness, positivity reigns. The only decision you have to make is to let it. Every moment of darkness is a gift, every obstacle a blessing, every challenge a chance to grow. Shift your perspective and you will see.
Gareth is my hero. He is radiant and positive and humorous and full of life, and when I look at him I see only light. There is no darkness, no missing piece, no grief. Only light.