Now me: Lessons in transcending circumstances

Do your workout.

Those were the instructions from Sue, who was positioned on the treadmill to my left. It had been a while since the two of us shared a run, and what better time to benefit from her wisdom and energy then on my longest run since the Disney Half Marathon over a month ago.

As my running continues to increase in duration during my return from a bout with plantar fasciitis, my speed is lacking. A pace that was easy for me before the injury is now difficult to sustain. Somewhere inside resides that faster pace, but to reconnect with it, I’ve chosen a thoughtful and natural path. I’m not only at peace with it, I’m very excited about my progress.

So why the tinge of self-consciousness at the gym?

At times, I feel the need to justify my running. Posting a big, handmade sign out of construction paper reading “RETURNING FROM INJURY. PLEASE DON’T JUDGE” on my back has come to mind. But the only person whose opinion truly matters is my own.

Hence, the talk from Sue, who reminded me that this is my workout. I’m running for me, not for anyone else. I’m running because I enjoy it, because it’s part of me. It’s my own self-judgement that is reflected back to me in the actions of others.

The next day while on my bike trainer for a two-hour endurance session, I placed my iPod on shuffle. As if on cue, the song King of Anything by Sara Bareilles started playing. With a nice pop beat it brings a smile to face and injects some perk into my cadence.

But there’s a line that particularly catches my attention:

All my life
I’ve tried
To make everyone happy while I
Just hurt and hide
Waiting for someone to tell me it’s my turn to decide.

And now we break for a brief musical interlude:


There was a time in my life when other’s people’s opinions were gospel to me along with the ill-conceived notion that their happiness depended on what I did or who I was. But happiness is only of own making. Sure, there are people in my life with whom I share a great deal of joy and good times. Do they make me happy? Or do they bring out the good that’s always been there?

We can create our own reality. And we can do it simply by the way in which we chose to frame our experience.

It was a lesson I learned from reporting the story of Jake Simmons, a Division III basketball player from Rochester, N.Y. now at Buffalo State College. Simmons survived one of the hardest-luck upbringing stories I’ve ever heard. He could be the fictional character in a modern-day Dicken’s novel, but that description is too flippant for a story that is true and at times heartbreaking.

His house burned down when he was in ninth grade. He served as his mother’s caretaker as her health deteriorated from several illnesses before she died his senior year of high school. He took care of his four half-siblings. His biological father was in jail. His relationship with his stepfather went from bad to worse. And as things finally started to look better for him, Simmons was in a car accident that left him paralyzed for 10 days with a year’s worth of rehab ahead of him.

If just one of those life circumstances happened to most people, they would likely fall off the face of the earth. That, quite frankly, would be the expectation.

But not for Jake. He ended up at Buffalo State living his dream of playing college basketball and working on a degree. He was the conference rookie of the year last season and leads the league in scoring this season.

Through his entire story, it’s his attitude that is most hauntingly beautiful:

See, as I’m going through these things, I never thought, ‘Oh my life is the worst.’ I never thought ‘Aw man, why is this happening to me.’ It was always like, there’s got to be another way. Even though I was hurt a lot and I would get down, I would always feel there was somebody going through something worse than I was.

I never took it all as why me. So when I got the chance to come to Buff State,  it was like, now me. Not it’s my turn. I’m going to make the most of this opportunity.

Now me.

It’s a sentiment that’s anything but selfish. In the parlance of Sarah Bareilles’ song, this is his turn to decide.

His story, which appears in today’s edition of The Buffalo News, reminds me of the power of self creation. We are more than the accumulation of our circumstances.

Each day, it’s my turn to decide. Each day is a chance to say “now me” and marvel at the way in which that not only serves me, but puts me in a better position to serve others.

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