Two weeks ago I sat across from a 17 year old guy who slouched in his desk, waiting for my writing lesson. He listened politely enough but when asked to write a sentence, he said matter-of-factly, “I can’t.” The others filled me in: he always says that. They didn’t encourage or expect him to do anything. Unoffended, he confirmed that, in his own words, he “can’t do much.” With a shrug, he looked at me blandly as I stared at him, incredulously. Can this kid be serious? I perceived no attitude, no defiance… just a simple statement of fact – from his point of view, that is. Apparently, from the reaction of his peers, everyone just took his inability as the way it is. Ha! Challenge accepted, kid.
I wish I could have introduced him to Chuck. In case you didn’t know, Chuck Close is a world famous artist and I stumbled upon his work this week. I was drawn to his concept of only using faces as his subjects but as I read more, I was more and more impressed; not with his work as much as with him. His book tells of his growing up as an artist which is quite predictable, I guess, but what grabbed me is that this man graduated from high school not being able to add, subtract or multiply. To say he had learning challenges is an understatement. Yet, he graduated from three colleges, the last being Yale.
After finding much success with his art, marrying and raising daughters, he suffered a medical emergency which left him a quadriplegic. Many would find it reasonable that his art career would be over but not this guy. His assistants Velcro the brushes to his hands and he’s fashioned special chairs and lifts so he can work on his super-large paintings. Impressed yet? I am! So I think back to this kid who told me he can’t write a simple sentence. He was perfectly healthy and academically capable but his attitude was awful. Actually, I’ve seen lots and lots of negative attitude but this guy was indifferent, which some would say is worse.
I’m happy to report that at the end of our time together, this young man found some inspiration and wrote two pages for me. I ribbed him before I left, “Couldn’t even write a sentence, huh? Look at you now.” He seemed pleased and not a little surprised. I hope that’s all it took to shake him from his complacency and realize that he has so much more ability that he thought he did. I hope even more that he finds himself meeting people who let him know just how capable he is. Even if he were to lose the use of all his limbs, he is STILL able to do so much. After all, look at Chuck!