Life and Limb: Johnny Whoops

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IMG_2615  Scott Todnem
“The greatness of a man is measured by the way he treats the little man. Compassion for the weak is a sign of greatness. ” – Myles Munroe

Ups and downs: key players in the game of life.

The human hand tells a similar tale. One of slips and slides and balance and laughter. A lot can be learned from the old kid’s game, “Johnny Whoops.”

Starting at the pinky: “Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, Whoops! Johnny, Whoops! Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, Johnny.”

And like the human hand, ups and downs are always connected, always a part of who we are. Inseparable. We are a compilation of our actions— both the virtues and downfalls. We are a series of trips and tangles, of conquests and clarity, all in a beautifully imperfect melody up the spiral staircase of progress. The creaks in the floorboards give each step character. The chips in the railing, a sign of reassurance.

Failure and success. All there, at the tips of our proverbial fingers.

To separate this dichotomy would be nearly impossible… like the loss of an extremity and a shock to our core. Not only a horrible accident, but a risk of life and limb. A risk of losing touch with our place in the world. Success just doesn’t exist without failure. Unless said success is given, not earned. In that case, it isn’t much our own, is it?

Through the ups and downs in life, one of the major tasks at hand is to persevere through weak points. To take care of the “little man,” when the little man is ourselves. Though weak, the pinky has importance too, and often, the pinky is us. We are the weak. We are the ones in need of compassion. A self-reflection in our greatest times of need. The compassion we give ourselves is the base for a rebuild, a starting point for a new tomorrow. It is strength despite weakness. Maybe, strength because of weakness.

Recognizing self-worth amidst desperation is a sign of greatness to come.

• • •

With this summer, I hit the seven-year mark of a lot of change in my life. An additional career path, a different direction in love— some hard choices and difficult turns. Some jumps, and some, well… Whoops!

It is so very difficult to stay positive during stressful times. “Why me?” becomes more than a song to sing, it’s a blinding anthem. And in that mindset, we become tone deaf and we lose foresight. We hear a creak and worry the floor will collapse. We see a nick and regard it as a permanent flaw.

Through divorce and financial instability, through the loss of old friends and emotional footing, I was singing that tune. The “Why me?” anthem with a chorus of self-doubt. Worry and anxiety, the backbeat. Belief that my down would equate to my out.

I specifically remember a beautiful day in June when I went to a Cubs game. Tickets as a gift, no doubt, and a chance to get out with some friends and enjoy. No stress. No worries. There at the game, however, was a flash of what used to be, mixed with the unknown for the future; a home run swept me up with confusing emotions like a slap to the face.

In all the cheers, I looked around and thought, “Here’s a stadium full of people who have it all— everyone is smiling, giving high-fives, having a great time. No one seems stressed. No one is worried. What am I doing? When will I figure it out?”

I had no home of my own and little money to my name. I used to come to Wrigley with friends who I no longer see. Some who think I’m a bad person. And in that roar of the crowd, in that reminder, was anxiety. There was a pit in my gut as I looked around; there was a cold realization that life goes on without me. And that’s a difficult reality to swallow. It was a shock to my psyche that wasn’t just a step backwards, it felt more like a tumbling fall down the staircase of progress.

It was true, things had changed. But there was the addition of other items too. Namely, the girl at my side who would help me see my worth, who would be my constant as we built a new life together, and who would later share my name. That day she held my hand; today she holds my heart.

Other positive life events carried a glimpse of things to come: anniversaries, childbirth, and professional accolades. Built on family relationships, day to day routine, and that small sense of worth, still hanging in there, by the pinky. And that’s the key; that’s the toughest wrinkle to see in the palm’s lifeline— a future based on self-worth. I maintained compassion for myself in hopes to see the greatness to come.

This is not to say I am never negative or I never complain— quite the contrary. I can’t always recognize when it happens, either. When it’s time to take a step back, a retreat on the proverbial staircase, in order to steady myself and push onward once again with strength and clarity. Alas, the dichotomy persists.

Struggles and fortunes, mistakes and triumphs— they’re all mine; they’re all yours. Know them like the back of your hand.

If you hold compassion for your weakness you will realize your greatness. It’s there at your fingertips, Johnny. Bound through life with laughter and tears, and look ahead at the jumps. Persevere after a Whoops, and keep, keep playing.

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