During the past year, my wife and I started to take our four beautiful children to Signature nursing centers to visit residents, celebrate holidays, or just sing Christmas carols.
Our children are 13, 10, 8 and 6, so I thought it’s about time to teach them “the business” (just kidding). No, it was finally time for them to start learning community service, respect for elders, feeling the power of prayer, and witnessing life’s fragility up close.
So, after summer visits at Pigeon Forge, homemade Thanksgiving cards for residents in South Florida or Christmas Eve present deliveries to several Louisville centers, or just Christmas Day caroling at Palm Beach, the kids became comfortable and at ease with the hugs, the intense prayers of healing, or the special dialogue it takes to really connect.
As a parent watching this small transformation, I am proud of their growth and learning of life lessons from residents who have walked the walk and talked the talk.
During the holidays, my kids and I were reflecting about what they learned so far over a big family dinner and I could not wait to tell you…
Here is lesson #1 we could all use – Never Give Up!
To “never, ever, ever give up” is something we hear so often as a cliché, but rarely see it up close. It seems to be more of a sports analogy after someone wins – rather than a struggle for basic human survival that we witness up close, intimately.
However, when it comes to Richard Cusati at Signature Palm Beach, who has been fighting MS for three full decades after being diagnosed in his mid-twenties with the brutal disease, you see it up close and witness the inspiration you receive from the fight makes everything you are up against seem like a ‘slam dunk,’ or as we say, ‘a piece of cake.’
After each and every visit, my kids have become closer to Richard trying to rush to find him. We have a plan to always see every resident and bring small gifts to each and every one as we make our rounds, but there is joy and a comfort that when in Richard’s grace they feel a spirit that roars out of him that they are drawn to.
During our last visit, Richard pulled the four kids close to him, with all holding hands in prayer for Richard to walk again he told them this: “things will not go your way, you will be knocked down, you will receive a cross to bear, but never let it beat you, we can will miracles with prayer and hope.” As he grasped to unhook his neck brace to show them he could still control his head on a good day despite being wheelchair-bound.
Remember, this man has already beaten the odds, broken records of longevity, and despite a neck brace and painful daily therapy, he closed with the four children with “I am going to walk again…you just wait. God has a plan for me, to show everyone our spirit never breaks even when your body does. I will walk.” The kids were teary-eyed as they hugged him goodbye until the next time.
As I walked away with my wife Sony to the next room, it really hit me…it is the human indomitable soul that gives us true life, that force that took over the room and brought you in like suction to take a closer look at spiritual fire that created man from the beginning.
What I liked most was, as parents, you try to protect your children, insulate them from the pain, and try to make it “seashells and balloons” as Al McGuire used to say, but you can’t. What Richard taught each of them is the sacred lesson, we all have both a beautiful and painful journey to walk, and when bad things happen to good people, as the Harold Kushner classic title reads, we all need to get right back up knowing we will win in the end just by being in the noble fight itself full of hope, redemption and prayer. And when all of those converge in a small resident room, you start believing it may happen if we just don’t give up – ever.
We cheered, prayed, and cried often over the past years, but learned three great lessons from Stephen that we all cherish today.