We were only four at Project Forward last night. Two clients. A volunteer and me.
One of the clients is a man in his late twenties. Tall. Slim. Like so many other clients, homelessness caught him by surprise. He's a father. A Licensed Practical Nurse by training. But the sudden onset of 'cervical dystonia' a neurological disease believed to have been caused by a reaction to the drugs he was taking for bi-polar disorder caused the basal ganglia in his brain to mis-function. Where once he could lift a 180 lb. patient with ease out of his wheelchair, suddenly he was weak, unable to control the activity of his limbs. His speech became slurred. His neck twisted, his head tilted down towards his shoulder and spasms rocked his body.
"My bi-polar disorder was causing me to do bizarre things," he said, his head tucked into his chin, his hands gripping the arms of his chair to keep them from shaking. "It was awful for my wife and kids and then, when I started taking the drugs, this happened. She asked me to leave a few months later and here I am. I can't work. I've applied for government assistance but I can't get it until I see a neurologist. I can't get an appointment with a neurologist for two years. My family want me to come home but my kids are here. I don't want to leave them and so I wait. Here." He looks at the room around him, gazes out the large plate glass windows where we sit in the boardroom. The view is of the river valley. Lights twinkle on the hillside beyond. The sky is indigo blue. Deep. "The view sure is beautiful up here at night," he says with a smile.
He always has a positive thing to say. "It's all I've got," he says when I mention his attitude. "If I don't keep thinking positive I'll drown in this place. I can't let that happen."
French philosopher, Voltaire, wrote, "Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats."
For this man, life became a shipwreck because of a disorder he did not choose, did not ask for, did not want.
Yet, he's singing in his lifeboat. Smiling every day as he sits on the second floor, working as a volunteer, talking to people, trying to lift their spirits with a joke, a warm look, a listening ear.
"I always like seeing you when I'm on the second floor," I told him. "You make me smile."
"It's your smile that makes me smile," he replied. "Guess it's true. Smiles are contagious."
The question is: How are you wearing your attitude today? Are you hiding your smile behind grey clouds or are you singing in your lifeboat, sharing your joy no matter the stormy weather tossing the waters of life?