Stephen Taylor: Be grateful

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Sometimes in life we need someone to inspire us and help us to get things into perspective.

I “discovered” a few such people this week. The first person I heard about was through an event that took place 50 years ago in 1960.

Ruby Bridges was six years old at the time and an African-American. She lived in New Orleans and was allocated to a school called William Frantz.

This school had never had anyone other than white children attending and when it became known that a black girl was going to go it became very unpleasant.

Initially there were to have been six new African-American children who were meant to enrol but when they received hate mail and death threats the other six withdrew.

Ruby’s father was very worried but her mother was adamant that for the sake of all such children Ruby should persevere and on her first days at school Ruby had to be escorted by four US Marshals.

Things were thrown at her and a black doll in a coffin was held up high. When she was in the school the white parents came in and took their children home and the teachers refused to teach her.

For a whole year she had to be escorted in and a new teacher had to be recruited.

Her father lost his job as a result and her grandparents were evicted from the land they farmed.

However the Methodist Minister took his own child in as a show of solidarity and made sure she and Ruby became good friends.

Others looked after their house to ensure it was protected and a local businessman re-employed her father.

Forty years on, in 2001, Bill Clinton awarded her the President’s Civilian Medal and in 2006 they named an Elementary school after her. She still lives in New Orleans and like many others lost her home in Hurricane Katrina.

Two other remarkable people with very similar stories.

Josh Sundquist lost his leg to cancer when he was 10 years old after which he decided to take up skiing! He became so good at the age of 17 he moved to Colorado to pursue the sport full time. He was chosen to ski for the United States national team.

Michael Milton, on the other hand, was from a skiing family in Australia when he lost his leg to bone cancer when he was nine years old.

Undeterred he also went on to ski for his country and in 2002 won every event he was entered for.

On April 19, 2006, he became the fastest Australian speed skier – able-bodied or disabled – after setting a world record at 213.65km/h in France. For the Bejing Olympics he switched sports and represented his country as a cyclist.

Each of these individuals have in common a passionate discipline to get the most out of life – and overcome life’s obstacles. So often we take our freedom of travel for granted and we cannot comprehend life without our mobility or our education. We have to fight for nothing and life perhaps becomes too easy or we become too complacent. These individuals have this week taught me to be grateful for what I have, to be mindful and encouraging towards those who haven’t and to resolve to make the most of all God’s gifts and goodness.