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Posted on 29. October 2010

Overcoming Adversity: Learning by Example

By Ronale Tucker Rhodes, MS

Mahatma Gandhi, the famous 20th century Indian civil rights leader, said: “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” While Gandhi’s obstacles in his political quest for equal treatment for all people in India were not like those affecting people with physical ailments, he was a living example that overcoming adversity is possible if we believe in ourselves and we persevere to accomplish what we desire - despite any obstacles, even physical ones, that may stand in our way.

But living examples don’t always come in the form of famous figures like Gandhi. Instead, many times, they are people who are close to us; sometimes they are even ourselves. I learned about the power of indomitable will from my mother.

My mother was born profoundly deaf (meaning she has no hearing at all), but it wasn’t until she was 5 years old that her deafness was discovered; my grandparents merely thought she was difficult. At that point, they decided that she would not be raised differently than a hearing child, and she was enrolled in public school. While growing up, she was forced into difficult situations that were almost impossible for her to perform, but she was expected to do just that. People didn’t understand her handicap, and instead thought her to be stubborn, rude or thoughtless.

By the time she was an adult, she had will and determination that could be matched by few. She could speak as well as a hearing person, lip-read with an astonishing degree of accuracy, play the piano, dance and sing. She then raised three children, put herself through law school, became editor-in-chief of the law review, graduated at the top of her class, clerked for a Court of Appeals judge, became a successful litigation partner in a prestigious Arizona law firm, and became a tenured professor at the Arizona State University Law School and a nationally recognized scholar and expert on matters of disability law.

None of her life’s accomplishments have come without a great deal of heartache, hardship and humility. But, throughout life, she has persevered to accomplish what she has desired. She later wrote a book about it, titled The Feel of Silence. And, hard as it may be to believe, she even has the ability to laugh about some of the things that have happened as a result of her deafness, like the times when:

• she has vacuumed entire rooms without the vacuum plugged in;
• she waited in line at the drive-through dry cleaner while customers and
  employees angrily eyed her, not realizing she was leaning on the horn
  the entire time;
• she was pulled over and ticketed by a policeman for not pulling over
  to the right for a passing fire truck because I, her daughter, had the
  radio blaring and couldn’t hear it to tell her;
• and the list goes on.

I’ve yet to be faced with any serious illness or handicap. But, I know that if and when I am, I will have the determination and indomitable will to overcome it and, I hope, to laugh at it - because I’ve seen firsthand how it can be done. I also know from the postings on Facebook and this blog site that many in the IG Living community share that tenacity. What’s your story, and who is your example?


Comments (2) -

3:21 AM on Saturday, October 30, 2010

     Gandhi is one of my heroes and I think your mother is too.  I recently read Gandhi's autobiography and will be looking for your mother's book also!  In addition to an immune deficiency ("complete CVID" as one immuno described it) I recently received another diagnosis and the 2 together explain my life. There have been many times in my 68 years that I pushed myself to do/acheive/endure but now understand most of these times I was actually shooting myself in the foot repeatedly, and wondering why it hurt. The more we learn about immune deficiencies and the disorders that often go with them, the better we can advise and treat these patients.  Fortunately science and medicine are making giant strides these days. Might be a tad late for some of us but will help our children and grandchildren!

10:03 AM on Friday, November 05, 2010

What a powerful story!  I'm also reminded that my friends frequently tell me how my dealing with adversity is inspirational to them.  Most of the time, I'm too overwhelmed with what I'm faced with handling to even be conscious of this aspect of my experience.  I think we all need to stop for a moment and recognize this ability within ourselves.  The truth be told, living with immune system deficiencies and dysfunctions is overcoming adversity.  We are examples for everyone we know.

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