Wednesday, March 21, 2012
David Austin Rose, Jamestown, NC
I imagine that my life is like most everyone else and some days are better than others. Yesterday was one of those days that I considered not as good as others as I prepared to leave home and drive to a local high school to judge senior presentations. I had judged nine presentations the evening before. All nine of those presentations were close to perfection with these “top of the class” students dressed in business attire and basking brightly in the graduation glow of entering the world of self determination with a seemingly unlimited future. The students were articulate, well versed and rehearsed, and gave me hope that humankind might survive after all.
The presentations last night were moving right along at close to the same level of proficiency. In fact, our presenter list was down to the last two seniors on our list as a violent spring thunderstorm dashed buckets of rain and hail against the darkened windows of our classroom. The lights flickered off and then thankfully back on as lightning streaked overhead across our small gathering. One of the teachers entered the room and asked if we could switch the last two students. She wanted to be certain the next young man had sufficient time for his presentation which she had apparently mentored. And, “Oh by the way, he’s in a wheelchair”.
I was the designated time keeper and we were instructed to assign less points to less minutes, but deduct if the presenter ran over the ideal time of eight minutes. That left me a bit uneasy as we hadn’t deducted many points at all so far in this area, with the exception of one student who nervously blew right past the cutoff time. The door swung open and an assistant wheeled the young man into our classroom. He was somewhat reclined in the chair with what looked like a pc tablet mounted across his lap. He was wearing a sharp looking colored dress shirt and matching regimental stripe tie. My concern for our ability to communicate was quickly dispelled when he introduced himself as “John” and mentioned that he had CP. He admitted that he was a bit nervous to be doing this. We did our best to assure him that we were pulling for him and that was quite normal for everyone. It was very much a part of the experience and most of us have to dig deep to summon the courage for public speaking. John told us that his presentation involved recent developments in enabling technology to assist the disabled like him. He told us that when his day started, he couldn’t move himself or turn on a light. He reminded us that like all the other seniors we had listened to for the past two evenings, he was entering the age of seeking independence and wanted to enlighten people to the possibilities of robotics and voice recognition that had come of age as well.
John then proceeded into his PowerPoint presentation without the seeming need for any notes while staying in synch with the bullet points on the screen. And all the while, I was nervously glancing at the stopwatch app on my iPhone as it rolled off the seconds and minutes. By now, John had my full attention and admiration and I absolutely did not want to give him anything less than a great score. He didn’t disappoint! As John moved into a short video demonstration that was embedded into his PowerPoint, my stopwatch rolled over to seven minutes—one minute to go and not one second more. John finished in just under eight minutes for the maximum score. After our short question and answer period, John’s assistant approached from the back of the room, as I noted the good presentation time. He was pleased that their practice time had been productive.
As I drove home in the rain, I noticed that my attitude had improved considerably. The next morning a neighbor friend coincidently sent me a short message from their pastor. He was quoting the country song I Beg your Pardon, I Never Promised you a Rose Garden, and noted that “our problems and handicaps can shape us. History is full of how problems have shaped people’s lives into significance: Louis Braille was blind, as was John Milton and Helen Keller; Beethoven was deaf; Franklin Roosevelt’s legs were paralyzed; George Washington Carver stuttered; Albert Einstein had dyslexia. So God says, perhaps, I never promised you a rose garden, but I do promise you grace.” It was apparent that many people had been used as vessels of clay to pour out God’s grace to John. Many times God uses others to deliver grace, as John did for those of us who were judging him that evening and finding him more than worthy of the task to obtain a better life for himself and others. And the judged delivered inspiration to the judges in the process!