Let me tell you about my best friend Sebastian. I first met Sebastian ten years ago while visiting my mother in Easton, PA. I liked him immediately. He was so intelligent, warm, kindhearted, and full of life that it was Impossible not to like him. It was a joy just being around him.
That night he invited me to his home to meet his wife Lisa, and his two little boys Gabriella and Fillip. It was a magical evening. In all honesty, I was totally enamored by his entire family. His sons were absolutely grand and Lisa... well, she was just the very best. That was the beginning of the best friendship that I've ever had. Aristotle says that friendship is two minds in one soul. That's the way it was for Sebastian and me. Actually, we became more like brothers than friends. He was always there for me and I always tried to be there for him. It was great.
About two years ago, Sebastian started experiencing some really tough times. First he made an honest, but major mistake by withdrawing over ten thousand dollars in cash from his personal savings and then depositing it into a brand new account without informing the IRS - a federal offense. Immediately the IRS seized all of his assets. Amazingly, even though Sebastian proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the money he had deposited was his own, the IRS still refused to return his funds. It was more then a year before the IRS finally relinquished his assets. Of course, they fined him significantly before they returned the money.
Then three days after he settled with the IRS, he had a terrible automobile accident, in which he sustained a major neck Injury. The Injury was so severe that he was unable to go back to work. When he was still unable to return to work after six months his employer had to terminate his position. As you can imagine this impasse was a real hardship on him and his family. In fact, it broke Sebastian’s spirit. It was as if his life's blood had been drained from his very soul.
Lisa, on the other hand, she was a "rock°. The worse things got, the stronger she became. She went out and acquired a really good paying job and started supporting the family. Within less than a year she turned everything around. There is an old saying "Tough times never last, but tough people do." Believe me, Lisa was living proof of that cliché.
Anyway, they bought a beautiful new home in Boca Raton, Florida, and they obtained a Pizza Hut franchise. It was absolutely amazing what they accomplished in a year's time. They literally rose from the ashes. In fact, they were better off after the misfortune then ever before. They had money, a bright future and, best yet, Sebastian had his health back. The problem was that Sebastian just couldn't let the past go. He complained constantly about what the IRS and his previous employer had done to him. He was so cynical and so untrusting. His beautiful smile seldom appeared. Even though his health had been restored, he still refused to work. Lisa literally carried the burden of the family. Most of the time Sebastian was totally gloomy and despondent. He was a man who could only see darkness. He had become the antithesis of what he once was - a warm, positive, loving human being. It wasn't long before Lisa and he started having marital problems. This beautiful marriage was literally being destroyed because Sebastian couldn't let the past go. He just couldn't find it in his heart to forgive the people who had done him harm. Consequently, the hatred he had for them not only brought him down but his entire family.
Three days before Thanksgiving my sister called and said, "Judd, did you hear" This glorious human being who was so full of love and kindness, whose mind was so gifted and exhilarating, who gave constantly to others, had gone home, got his gun and killed his beautiful wife, his two magnificent little boys, and himself. It still bothers me to this very day.
There are a lot of things that happen in life that we have no control over, but we do have control—complete control - over how we will respond to such matters. We can roll over and die or we can get back up and live. When you're defeated at something, you have to get back up; you have to go on. If you don't, your personal inertia will decay and then you're finished—no growth, no development. Addis Whitman said, "If we live our lives well in suffering, hardship, or failure, if we can use all our talents and courage, then something of great worth will emerge and be added to the common good."
Now let me tell you about my other good friend, Kenny Blanchard. I first met Kenny about twenty years ago. He was a warm, loving person with many extraordinary gifts to share. In all candor, he was one of the most exciting human beings I have ever met. He was so enthusiastic, and wondrous, and so full of life. Then about six months after we met, exactly five weeks before he was to be married, Kenny ran his motorcycle into a road sign and broke his neck. The injury left him paralyzed from the chest down, with his hands completdy non-functional, a quadriplegic - the most devastating condition a person can endure and still survive. When I saw Kenny the first time after the accident I was shocked. To be honest, I couldn't even recognize him. His body had been transformed into a mass of nonfunctional protoplasm. It was heartrending.
For most men such an ordeal would be devastating. At first it was for Kenny. He told me that initially he was mad at everyone, especially God. He didn't understand why he had to bear such a cross. 1 hated the world and everything in it", he told me. "I was totally lost, but my parents refused to let me die emotionally. They taught me to appreciate myself as I am and my life for what it is. I've learned from experience that when tragedy strikes you're either going to be positive and enthusiastic about life or you're going to sit around and be filled with self-pity. Self-pity is the greatest form of self-destruction. There is no merit in being preoccupied with something that can't be controlled. Conversely, it only makes sense to be occupied with something you can control... Like the present. That's where I live in the present, among my friends and loved ones".
Now this will probably blow your mind, but today Kenny is one of the happiest, most content guys you would ever want to meet. I'm serious! I see him every day and he is never without a smile or a kind word for someone else. He is an absolute treasure. Believe me, he is one of the most loved and respected men in our entire community. Less than a week ago Kenny came to my office and he said a beautiful thing. He said, "You know Judd, considering everything, I'm the happiest man in the world". Do you know something, he's not lying!
Kenny didn't let adversity destroy him. He didn't look at why he couldn't do something, rather he focused on what he could do. So many times we let what we don't have keep us from using what we do have. Great men are generally at their best when their backs are at the wall. Adversity stimulates them to rise to the occasion and in many cases it drives them beyond their mental and physical parameters. It takes them to the stars.
You know, most people invariably assume that adversity is inherently bad. I don't believe that for a second. Show me a man who hasn't had adversity in this life and l'll show you someone who hasn't lived. Adversity constitutes a sign of life. In fact, I would venture to say that the more adversity you have, the more alive you are. Adversity helps you grow; it builds character and endurance. Perhaps Martin Luther King Jr. put it best when he said, 'The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in moments of challenge amid controversy."
Nikos Kazantzakis says a beautiful thing, "You have your brush, you have your colors, you paint paradise, then in you go." Paradise is what I choose to paint, but if you prefer to paint yourself a nightmare, go ahead. However, take credit for the fact that YOU painted the nightmare; no one else did. Sure, life is hard, but it's also great. No one can protect us against pain or sadness, but through such experiences we can learn what love is, what compassion is, and what life is all about. Sometimes you have to experience sorrow to understand what happiness is all about and sometimes you have to experience defeat to appreciate victory. And sometimes you have to look at death to understand life. Experiences make us grow. Life is not easy, but it's worth it if you're willing to live it fully. And you can t do that by "half stepping it."
When disaster strikes, you have a choice to either give up or go ahead. The real champions of life go forward, despite being afraid or blocked by obstacles. They do what has to be done, no matter how hopeless things look or how overwhelming the odds against them. They are aware that fighting back may not always restore things to normal, but that trying always makes things better and provides immense self-satisfaction. They are disciples of the classic slogan. "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."
Yours in Strength,