If there is anything true in life, it’s this: You never know who someone is going to become. In 1835, in New Salem, Illinois, a 26-year-old land surveyor, devastated by the death of his first love, was in the middle of a nervous breakdown. He wandered about town in a daze and spent long hours in the woods with a rifle. Those who knew him were certain he had lost his mind and would remain an invalid for the rest of his life.
Alas, fate had other plans, as that broken, deeply ill young man, Abraham Lincoln, found the strength to escape the mire of depression and teach himself law, one dusty book at a time.
In 1947, a returning GI was running for Congress in Boston. He was sick, dangerously thin, and had a devastating back injury that made campaigning difficult. Getting up a flight of stairs required slowly lifting one foot in front of the other. The pain was so excruciating and during speeches he often fumbled his words.
Local political junkies didn’t give the fella much of a chance. Little did they know, during those difficult days John F. Kennedy was gaining the courage and tenacity he needed to take America to a new frontier.
Of course, I am citing the most grand examples, but they prove an important point. The human spirit is a mighty thing, capable of overcoming the most daunting burdens. Lincoln and Kennedy were not superheroes or gods; during their short time on Earth, they faced the same fears and tragedies we all do.
However, they had that one intangible quality that transforms individuals: an indomitable spirit. Day in and day out, these men grinded, fought through their pain, and completed small steps toward bettering themselves.
Like sculptors, they molded the rock of their potential into something extraordinary and profound. That is a beautiful notion, and what was true for them is true for us all.
Now, most of us suffering at this moment won’t get elected president, but if we learn to have grit and be courageous, we can become who God intended us to be. Maybe that means ending up a doctor, a lawyer, a school teacher, or a great parent. No matter the case, becoming is within reach of us all, if we have the courage to pursue it.
So face down your troubles, one day at a time. Great lives are not made in an instant but through a thousand triumphs of the will.
One thinks of the boy reaching over for his first kiss, the student taking the two-hour bus ride to class, the young lawyer burning the midnight oil to learn his craft. These strivers may not become great figures in history, and that’s OK, for they are on the way to becoming valued members of their communities, able to tend to and replenish our American Eden.
Which is the only achievement anyone needs.
Joshua Heath is a Valencia resident and a political science student at UCLA. He has served two terms as a delegate to the California Democratic Party. Democratic Voices runs every Tuesday in The Signal.