I believe that the past and present do not determine our futures. There are indicators of what might be and what can be. We can be predisposed with tendencies that can either stack the cards for or against us. But I believe that most of us, to some degree, have not only the capabilities but also moral responsibilities to determine our own destinies, regardless of the hands dealt to us.
The first twenty-three years of my own life had as much self-direction as a leaf in the wind. Growing up in an area where dependence on the welfare system was passed down like an uncle’s jacket, each chapter had been determined by situations, not by passions. Then there was vertical violence, where a member of an oppressed group is discouraged from upward mobility for fear of coming off as trying to emulate a member of the oppressing group. I relented, surrendering the driver’s seat and taking the couch of least resistance.
It was my introduction to an obscure workforce that changed my life. After working in and out of bars for several years, I took a day job as a material-handler at a sheltered workshop for the blind. Gradually, the people there began to have a profound effect on me. They could have easily chosen to spend their lives at home, collecting monthly government checks. Instead, the men and women woke up early every morning, most of them taking the bus there, and worked eight-hour shifts, five days a week. They would then make their ways back home, where many raised families and pursued other interests.
Meanwhile, I was hanging out with the guys, many of them un or under-employed and, like myself at the time, abusing drugs and alcohol. We would complain about the system and romanticize our gloomy lots in life. Then one day the proverbial light bulb blinked on; I’d been selling myself short all this time. I had allowed the past and present, the status quo, that’s-just-the-way-it-is to determine my future. Working side by side with people who were blind, deaf or in wheelchairs, people who had overcome obstacles and taken control of their own lives, I no longer had an excuse. I alone was responsible for my failure or success.
A new chapter began shortly thereafter, one of my own choosing. No, I didn’t become a corporate CEO or a prominent civic leader, but I am happier now than I ever thought I could be. And I’m forever indebted to those who inspired me to break the chains of self-doubt and to embrace the gratifying sense of self-empowerment.
The blind helped me to see.
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