I didn't want to play anymore.
In a span of three months or so, which may have even been a bit longer, I stopped caring.
I had lost my wife and my two daughters to divorce, lost my job, lost my house, and, more importantly than any of that, lost my desire to live.
What did I have to live for? Things will never get better. I wouldn't even know where to begin. No place to live, no place to go, and virtually nothing to live for.
I looked in the mirror that day and asked God the most basic of all questions. A question we've all asked at various points in our lives. Why me? Why me, God? I'm a nice guy. I feel like I always think of others before I think of myself. I do unto others. Why me, man? Why me?
I called my parents crying, as I'd done many times before. This time I didn't tell them that I was having a bad day. They seemed to know. I remember my Dad telling me to find the soft spot.
"Every problem has a soft spot, Todd. Find the soft spot."
I didn't quite think that this problem had a soft spot, but Dad made me think long enough to calm my sorry ass down.
I remember going into my bedroom and lifting my window shades for the first time in weeks. The brightness of the world outside hurt me, but I left the shades open just the same.
I grabbed "Chicken Soup for the Soul" off the bureau from the spot it had been sitting in for weeks. Someone gave it to me in an effort to brighten my world. It didn't.
I thumbed through the first few chapters and nothing really seemed to interest me. Stories of love and family could have just as easily been quantum physics. I didn't recognize any of it and I didn't want to learn how.
I went to the medicine cabinet and grabbed my bottle of "whatever it was I was taking this week." I poured a couple extras into my throat. Not in an effort to end my life, I justified in my mind. I took extras in an effort to ease my pain. To make me feel better.
Except, I didn't feel better.
I went back to "Chicken Soup" and flipped to a page about 2/3 of the way back in the book. I started to skim the story as I had several before. I remember the title to this day. "Everybody Can Do Something" by Jack Canfield.
I pondered the title for a few seconds. And remember chuckling. "Yeah, everyone except me."
That's the last I remember. My pills had taken effect. I didn't feel better, but I did fall asleep. For hours.
Not really sure what happened when I awoke. I think I know, but won't be able to confirm it until God calls me home. And whenever that may be (and no it miraculously wasn't back in 1996), I'll ask Him. And yet, I already know His answer.
I woke up and the book came immediately into my line of vision. I couldn't focus on the writing for a few minutes but knew I wanted to continue reading. The book sat inches from my hand. I don't remember leaving it there but I suppose I did. And yet I didn't.
The corner of the page was dog eared as if God didn't want me to lose my place. He wanted me to read this story. So I did.
The story went like this...
"Roger Crawford had everything he needed to play tennis—except two hands and a leg.
When Roger's parents saw their son for the first time, they saw a baby with a thumb-like projection extending directly out of his right forearm and a thumb and one finger stuck out of his left forearm.
He had no palms. The baby's arms and legs were shortened and he had only three toes on his shrunken right foot and a withered left leg, which would later be amputated.
The doctor said that Roger suffered from ectrodactylism, a rare birth defect affecting only one of 90,000 children born in the United States. The doctor informed the Crawfords that Roger would probably never walk or care for himself.
Fortunately Roger's parents didn't believe the doctor.
"My parents always taught me that I was only as handicapped as I wanted to be, " said Roger. "They never allowed me to feel sorry for myself or take advantage of people because of my handicap.
"Once I got in trouble because my school papers were continually late," explained Roger, who had to hold his pencil with both "hands" to write slowly. "I asked Dad to write a note to my teachers, asking for a two-day extension on my assignments. Instead Dad made me start writing my paper two days earlier."
Roger's father always encouraged him to get involved in sports, teaching Roger to catch and throw a volleyball and play backyard football after school. At age 12, Roger managed to win a spot on the school football team.
Before every game, Roger would visualize his dream of scoring a touchdown. Then one day he got his chance. The ball landed in his arms and off he ran as fast as he could on his artificial leg towards the goal line, his coach and teammates cheering wildly.
"But at the 10-yard line, a guy from the other team caught up with Roger, grabbing his left ankle. Roger tried to pull his artificial leg free from the player's grasp, but instead ended up having his leg pulled off (Every problem has a soft spot).
"I was still standing up," recalls Roger. "I didn't know what else to do so I started hopping towards the goal line. The referee threw his hands up in the air. Touchdown. You know, even better than the six points was the look on the other kid who was holding my artificial leg."
"Roger's love of sports grew and so did his self confidence. But every obstacle gave way to Roger's determination.
Eating in the lunchroom with other kids watching him fumble with his food proved very painful to Roger as did repeated failures in typing class.
"I learned a very good lesson from typing class. You can't do everything-it's better to concentrate on what you can do."
"One thing Roger could do was swing a tennis racket. Unfortunately, when he swung it hard, his weak grip usually launched it into space. By luck, Roger stumbled upon an odd looking tennis racket in a sports shop and accidentally wedged his finger between it's double-barred handle when he picked it up.
"The snug fit made it possible for Roger to swing, serve and volley like an able-bodied tennis player. He practiced every day and was soon playing and losing matches.
But Roger persisted. He practiced and practiced and played and played. Surgery on the two fingers in his left hand enabled Roger to grip his special racket better, greatly improving his game. Although he had no role models to guide him, Roger became obsessed with tennis and in time he started to win.
Roger went on to play college tennis, finishing his tennis career with 22 wins and 11 losses. He later became the first physically handicapped player to be certified as a teaching professional by the United States Professional Tennis Association.
"Roger now tours the country, speaking to groups about what it takes to be a winner, no matter who you are.
"The only difference between you and me is that you can see my handicap, but I can't see yours. We all have them.
When people ask me how I've been able to overcome my physical handicaps, I tell them that I haven't overcome anything.
I simply learned what I can't do—such as play the piano or eat with chopsticks—but more importantly, I've learned what I can do. Then I do it with all my heart and soul."...
I put down the book. I was sobbing, a hobby that I had grown comfortable doing. Only this time, I was sobbing tears of hope instead of tears of frustration. I realized that the pebble in my shoe was just that. A pebble in my shoe.
If Roger Crawford can win 66 percent of his intercollegiate tennis games on only one leg. If Roger Crawford can get dressed every morning with no hands. If Roger Crawford can walk outside each day amidst stares and questioning looks. Then I can get out of bed today and try to start living again.
Thanks to Roger, I no longer had the feeling of not wanting to play anymore. I actually wanted to compete and to win in this game we call life.
I got out of bed and grabbed a highlighter in hopes of capturing the key points in the Roger's highlighted Roger's story and used it to motivate me daily. Each day. Every day.
I highlighted nearly every word on every page. I reread Roger's story until I had it forever etched in my heart and my soul. My story continued, because of Roger's story.
I recently called Roger Crawford out of the blue and told him my story. In exchange for mine, he told me his.
Roger spent nearly two hours on the phone with me on one day and then called me back a couple days later to continue with our interview. A nice man you will NEVER meet.
My story continued because of Roger Crawford's story.
And this story, too, will continue...
"Everybody Can Do Something" was excerpted from Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. Chicken Soup for the Soul is on the NY Times Best Seller list and can be ordered at ChickenSoupfortheSoul.com.
Roger Crawford's books How High Can You Bounce? and Playing from the Heart, as well as more motivating stories of Roger's life, can be found at www.rogercrawford.com.