I went to Party City and walked around the crowded store holding that arm hoping people would see and react. Most of them were too preoccupied to notice, though. Eventually I made my way to the counter where I plopped the arm down and the cashier rang me out. It was clear she had no idea how to react, so I said, “Yeah, it’s ok to laugh.” She smiled and said, “That’s awesome.” I took the arm to work and everybody thought it was funny (well, some people probably didn’t). Then, for the next year, I left it under my desk. I’ve always kind of wished I could setup a camera to catch the cleaning crew’s reaction when they see it laying there on the floor.
My wife and I were walking through the mall together when out of nowhere I hear, “Ryan Haack?!” Since that’s my name, I looked in the direction the voice came from. A young woman stood there smiling and waving. “Hi!” I said. I didn’t say her name. I couldn’t remember it. Eventually I figured out we went to elementary school together. It was nice to catch-up, but afterward I felt bad.
“I hate when I can’t remember people,” I told Julie.
“Well, it’s not really fair,” she said.
“How so?” I wondered aloud.
“I mean, we all have an advantage. You’re pretty easy to remember,” she said.
“Because of your arm! Jeez.”
Then I got angry.
Ok, not really. But, she’s totally right! You two-handers have the upper-hand (as it were) when it comes to remembering those of us with a limb-difference.
The truth is, anybody with a pronounced difference, physical or otherwise, is memorable. Could be a big nose or a bald head, Leno’s chin or Angelina’s lips, Conan’s fiery locks or Arnold’s bouncing pecs. Then there’s that total jerk. Oh, and that super nice lady. The one with the laugh.
So, what makes you memorable?
I was recently in Nashville at the StoryLine conference with Donald Miller and we talked a lot about living a better story. To me, living a better story makes you different. It makes you memorable.
We heard from a variety of people who are living better stories. There was Al Andrews, a successful therapist who decided his dream was to become a philanthropist. One problem: philanthropists need money in order to give it away. Al didn’t have it. So, he started Improbable Philanthropy. His first venture was to write a children’s book and all the proceeds will be given to charity (buy here). A noble beginning. Then we heard from Jamie Tworkowski. In 2006 Jamie met a young woman struggling with depression and self-injury. He wanted to help, so he wrote a story and then put the title of it on shirts to sell and raise money for her treatment. Eventually, Jamie founded the organization To Write Love On Her Arms; the title of his story. TWLOHA “is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.” The reach of TWLOHA is growing exponentially and those in need are being helped. What an amazing story!
Bob is the kind of guy you just want to be around. All the time. I mean, his sweet wife would probably have to push me out of their bed if I had my way. Bob just released a book, Love Does, wherein he shares some of his more famous stories. Like how he became the consul for the Republic of Uganda…by accident. Or the one abut the parade. See, one year Bob’s kids were talking about how boring New Years Day was, so he asked what they wanted to do. One of his daughters suggested having a parade. Bob thought it was a great idea, so they dressed-up and out they went, inviting all the neighbors. One rule, though: You can’t watch. You can only be in the parade. A perfect metaphor for life; we’re all in this together. And for years now, the New Years Day parade has grown. Families who have moved out of the neighborhood fly back to San Diego just for the parade! Here’s this year’s:
Personally, I was blown away when, as I walked-up to greet him, he looked at me and shouted, “Ryan!” He gave me a great big hug. “I love reading what you’re writing!” he said. Me. Ryan. A guy he’s never met. Bob knows thousands of people, many of them world leaders, and yet he recognized me from our few Twitter connections. And I’m sure it didn’t hurt that I was wearing my LOH shirt. Either way, I felt loved and cared for and encouraged by this man I was meeting for the first time.
Me and Bob
Everyone says Bob is one of the best story tellers in the world. But you know why that’s even a possibility? It’s because he lives great stories. He has them to tell, because he lives them. And while it’s tempting to whine, “But he knows way more amazing people than I do and he has more money and influence and opportunity…I could never do the things he does,” I implore you not to. I’ve done it. While reading the incredible stories of limb-different people like Josh Sundquist and Kevin Connolly and Jim Abbott, I’ve thought to myself, “Why would people want to hear about my life?” Well, here’s a secret:
It’s not about me.
It’s about other people. When we help other people, we live better stories. And when we live better stories, people remember us. Know why?
Because most of us aren’t living very good stories.
Most people are letting life push them around; me included. It’s time to be more intentional. It’s time to be known for more than a big nose or a strong chin or a missing left hand. It’s time for you and me to choose to live better stories. To discover good ambitions and overcome conflict and help other people; to make a difference in the lives of those around us.
I’m fine with being recognized because of my arm, but I’d like to be known for much more.
Apparently, if I’m ever going to write a memoir, I need to start skiing.
I’m currently reading Emily Rapp’s Poster Child and it’s the third memoir in a row wherein the limb-different author was some sort of champion skier. First it was Josh Sundquist, then Kevin Michael Connolly and now Emily Rapp. Now, to be fair, they are all missing one or both legs, so I could probably get by without skiing. But, still…
Reading these memoirs has made me try to remember all the things I did as I was growing-up. And the fact of the matter is…I was pretty dang normal. I never aspired to be a champion athlete, though I played every sport imaginable. Except soccer, which is what everyone assumes I played. “Because you don’t need hands, ya know?” they say. I played little league baseball and was a pitcher like my hero, Jim Abbott, but I stopped before high school. I ran track my freshman year, but then I focused on music starting my sophomore year. I was in choir and wind ensemble and orchestra and jazz…whatever was offered, I did it. I played trumpet, euphonium, and the valve trombone. Junior year I went through my drama phase, gracing the stage for a musical and a play my senior year.
I’ve been to Europe and I’ve been to Haiti. I got married and I have three kids. I’ve been a youth pastor and I’m currently our church’s associate pastor. I’ve held all sorts of jobs and have lived in a few different places.
As my friend Desi said recently, “You’re just a normal guy.”
Here’s the thing I’m realizing, though: most of us are normal. There’s a reason they’re making a movie of Kevin’s life and not mine. He did something creative and unique! His story should be told. And that’s awesome. But, I’ll admit, sometimes I get down on myself for not being more ambitious. Like, why wasn’t I more determined to conquer everything when I was younger? I believe I could have been a star athlete. Or an actor. Anything, really. And I don’t mean for that to sound arrogant, I just really believe that when I put my mind to something I can accomplish it. So, why didn’t I do that more when I was a kid?
I’ll tell you why I think it was. It was because I didn’t have anything to prove. At least I didn’t think I did. That and I had a short attention span. Honestly, though, you’d think I’d want to prove to everyone that I could not only do everything you two-handers could do, but I could do it better. If I was going to Jump-Rope-For-Heart, I’d win it. If you could win that. I’d become a star baseball pitcher. I’d become an actor who elicits howls of laughter or stifled sobs every time I took the stage. Whatever it was, I’d be the best.
But it was never like that. I did something I liked and then I moved on. And I think that’s what most of us do. We try things and if we like them, we keep doing them. Most of us aren’t the best at whatever it is we like to do. I mean, logically, only one person can be the best, so the rest of us aren’t. And that’s fine. We all have our own stories. And your story is just as valid as mine or as Josh’s or as anybody’s. Maybe our stories won’t ever be told within the pages of a book, but they will be told. Your family, your friends, the people in your community…they’ll come to know your story.
Turns out, we have a lot in common. He’s missing his left leg, I’m missing my left forearm. He likes making people laugh and I like making people laugh. He liked girls growing up and so did I. The similarities are eery. And I think I just found a new “weirdest word” nominee.
Seriously, Josh has an amazing story. He lost his left leg to cancer at the age of nine and yet, he overcame the odds to make the paralympic skiing team in 2006. Honestly, though, the skiing part isn’t what I loved about his book. It was all the other stuff. The family stuff. The girl stuff. The faith stuff. Josh has such a clear voice and a vulnerability that sucks you in. I can’t tell you how many times I said, “Ahh! I’ve felt the same way!” And he’s hilarious, too. His recounting of the first motivational speech he gave is priceless. Painful, but priceless.
I loved the part when Josh shared about getting counseling to help with his “grayness,” or depression. Perfectionism had taken over and feelings of failure and hopelessness moved in. Finally, after a lot of help and soul searching, he came to a point where perfectionism and the fear of failure had to go. So he kicked them out. “It was enough [trying, not only winning], because I was enough. Either way. I was enough,” he says. It took a lot of guts to share that experience and I know, I know it’s helpful for countless people struggling with the same thought patterns.
This is not just a book about a guy with one leg who learns how to ski. That actually sounds incredibly insulting as I write it. It’s so much more. It’s a story of a boy and his family. It’s a story of a young man trying to figure out how his homeschooling and his Christian upbringing fits with the real world. It’s a story of loss and heartbreak. It’s a story of love and hope and triumph.
It’s a story you should read.
Josh thinks you should read his book, too.
[FULL DISCLOSURE: This book is NOT for kids. There are a few parts with very strong language, so be warned.]