December 1, 2023

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Listen to Mustn’ts, child, listen to the Don’ts.

Listen to the Shouldn’ts, the lmpossibles, the Won’ts.

Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me.

Anything can happen, child, Anything can be.

-Shel Silverstein

I remember my daughter climbing on my knee as I read her this poem. I talked to her about how life was wide open for her–full of choices and options. She hung on every word. I told her she could be anything she wants when she grows up. She listened intensely. I told her how achieving greatness is a decision, rather than a circumstance. She believed me.



And then I thought how I had just lied to my little girl. Her warmth in my arms, and I thought of the lie fresh off my lips. I thought about how, for all of us, “anything” is bound and chained by reality. The reality is that we have mental and physical limitations, and we have limitations of opportunity.


I thought how, for many of us, life has laid opportunities in our path that are not available to others … opportunities to have good families and sound employment.  Opportunities that have spared us getting news at the doctor that no one wants to hear.  Opportunities to live in a country where we do not have to worry about things like roadside bombs.


And in the same manner others have opportunities we can only dream of.  And no matter how much we may want to, we can never have the opportunities for fame or fortune or whatever opportunities God has selected to bypass us and fall in the laps of our neighbors. It seems we are dealt certain cards in life, and we are prohibited from handpicking through the deck.


Back to the poem … I let the lie rest with Rachael. I never corrected it, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because the dream is so much more appealing than the reality. Maybe it was because I was embarrassed that I had been told the same story and could never pull it off.  Whatever the reason, I’ve thought about this poem and my daughter a lot lately.  I’ve thought about how life is about hope, and hope is about convincing people that “anything can be … ” I’ve thought about kids with cancer, child rape, school lockdowns in Frankfort, school shootings in Ohio, and famous stars of Hollywood who have taken their own lives because behind the glamor and fame, life was just too hard.  I’ve thought of how 60% of the adult population is on prescription antidepressants.  I’ve thought of the burdens carried by hard workers caught in the cross hairs of a corporate downsizing.  I’ve thought of bullying at school … and I’ve thought of a million other problems I do not know how to fix.


It makes me sad.  But then I think of what Paul Harvey used to call, “The rest of the story.”  How I cannot be anything … without limitations … but I can be one thing very well.  I think of how, with all the people with all these problems, I get opportunities to live my faith each and every day.  Each day I get opportunities to be the Good Samaritan.  We all do.


The opportunity to be a Good Samaritan is not something far in the distance … it is at my doorstep.  You know the opportunities.  You see them in the eyes of the Walmart clerk.  You hear them hiding behind the words as a kid talks about school.  You sense them in the overweight coworker who just cannot loose the weight.


How great it is that our options are limited.  How wonderful it is that we can help carry a little bit of the load for friends and neighbors.  If that doesn’t open a world of possibilities, I don’t know what does.

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