June 30, 1997
As I write this letter, it's really hot in Chicago. According to the weather page in one of the local newspapers, it's hotter here than in Atlanta, Houston and a lot of other places known for their sultry summer weather. Everybody is complaining about the heat and humidity. But if you're alive and healthy, isn't it wonderful that you can experience another day in peace and freedom, no matter how temporarily uncomfortable it might be? Somehow we lose our perspective about how tough things really are in some people's lives.
I just finished reading a new book titled How Will They Know If I'm Dead? by Robert C. Horn III. Horn is professor emeritus of political science at California State University in Northridge. He and his wife, Judy, have three grown children. For many years, Horn and his family have been very active in soccer circles, and he was instrumental in bringing girls' soccer to the Los Angeles school system. But in June 1988, Bob Horn was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The disease is a particularly insidious one. In a short time, the muscles atrophy to the point of total paralysis, and in the end the individual usually suffocates to death, usually within two to four years after diagnosis. While the disease takes its brutal toll on the body, the mind is unaffected, so the patient is well aware of the relentless physical deterioration taking place.
But Horn has defied the odds. He wrote his book while almost totally paralyzed, using a word processor with a special hook-up that allows him to tap out his messages with his right foot. I learned these details from a friend of mine, Mike Leonard, who does vignette-type pieces for NBC's "Today" show. His piece on Horn appeared recently, and to say it was powerful and inspirational is an understatement. There's so much Horn can teach us about life. Talk about a positive attitude! Horn epitomizes the eternal optimist. Defeat and self-pity are nowhere to be found.
Here's an excerpt from Horn's book that gives a glimpse of how he looks at life: "I have found along with many others, that despite the difficult conditions of disability and terminal illness, life can be meaningful, productive, fulfilling, rewarding and valuable. I believe that the things I can do are more important than those I can't. There is much more to life than physical ability. I am still a vibrant, healthy and independent person mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I can think, reason, analyze, remember, read, write, learn and communicate. I can love, feel happiness and sadness, be enthusiastic, get angry, have highs and lows, feel joy. I can believe, hope and have faith." Horn's message is one of hope, not despair.
His secret must be his attitude. Something that has had a lasting impact on him is an article by Charles Swindoll that Horn quotes in his book. Swindoll wrote: "The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. To me attitude is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play the one string we have, and that is our attitude . . . I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it."
Get a big dose of positive thinking and the right attitude and read Horn's book. It just might change your life. Better still, you'll realize how lucky you are.
Charles S. Lauer