I brought Vernon a book that I believe I’d bought for his birthday a few years back. I’m not sure if he ever read the whole thing, but he’d been a fan of the writer. “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell.
As usual when read to, Vernon was very interested and didn’t want me to stop. I could see his brain trying to engage. This is the perfect kind of book to read to him right now because it’s intellectual, but gives its message through interesting stories about real people and their approach to overcoming obstacles. Here are a few gems:
“Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all.”
“Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness.”
“As the playwright George Bernard Shaw once put it: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
“There is a set of advantages that have to do with material resources, and there is a set that have to do with the absence of material resources- and the reason underdogs win as often as they do is that the latter is sometimes every bit the equal of the former.”
I wondered how much Vernon was gaining in his soul from all this. Could he apply himself to the message of the underdog having equalized strengths, with the right reframing. I asked him if he identified more with David or Goliath in the story. “Goliath,” he said. Why? “Because I have abilities.” Ok, maybe he wasn’t following completely. Or maybe he was.
“Much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of these kinds of lopsided conflicts, because the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty…We consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong. We misread them. We misinterpret them. Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness. And the fact of being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate: it can open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise have seemed unthinkable.”
Here is a picture of Vernon on Tuesday this week. He had somehow smuggled his sunglasses in his pocket. I am still trying to imagine how that happened. Did he demand/request the EMTs to hand them over? Had he hid them in his bed? Unlikely. Was he thinking ahead? This is the first time I’ve seen him bring something of his own with him.
Maybe I’m reading too much into things. You know why, though, right? Because I’m feeling hopeful again. It’s always hard to succumb to hope when it’s most often such a fleeting thing, but I have to admit it: I’m feeling hopeful. I haven’t noticed his mood swings as much lately, and I notice his detailed memory has improved slightly. He can recall my name if I make him look closely at me long enough—so we’ve been doing that instead of my giving him spelling hints. He doesn’t always remember his history correctly, but he seems to be connecting to some past emotional truths that make sense in context. Most importantly, he recognizes that his memory is better than it was, and he also acknowledges that it was very bad before. I’m not explaining that well, I’m sure, but I notice subtle improvements and a new sort of acceptance within him.
I’ve always appreciated the underdog, though its not always fun to be one. Seems to be the path we are on, can’t change it anyway. Sometimes success is just a matter of reframing.
“We have, I think, a very rigid and limited definition of what an advantage is. We think of things as helpful that actually aren’t and think of other things as unhelpful that in reality leave us stronger and wiser.” —Malcolm Gladwell