The Vital Human Difference

McFeely, Richard H.


And now, This I Believe. We bring you an earlier broadcast which is being repeated because of the special interest it aroused. Here is Edward R. Murrow as he first introduced the guest.
This I Believe. Life can be bitterly cruel, but the tragedies which crush some people seem to make others grow stronger. Richard H. McFeely was born in Indiana 47 years ago. In college, he seemed headed for a brilliant career as an athlete until misfortune overtook him. Then he thought he would never be anything at all. Today he is a ranking educator, widely-known author, and lecturer on social and religious problems. He lives and works in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where he is principal of a remarkable co-educational boarding school called George School. Here is the personal philosophy of Richard McFeely, and why he believes it.
I have always loved sports. In high school and college, I played almost everything—football, basketball, baseball, lacrosse, and all the rest. I had planned graduate study in physical education. Suddenly, during the football season in my senior year, I was stricken with infantile paralysis. I was told I had lost the use of my legs forever, except with crutches and braces.
At first, I was very low in mind and spirit. I had no real hope for the future. One day, my mother revealed to me the two lessons which have helped me immeasurably ever since. She realized, as only a mother can, the depths of my mental depression. She wanted to help me by giving me something that would sustain me.
“Dick,” she said, “what life does to you in the long run will depend on what life finds in you. You know we can change
any situation by changing our own attitude toward it.” She went on to point out that we could not always explain our hard luck, which so often seemed unjust and undeserved.
“Remember,” she added, “it is not so much what life brings to us in her hands as what we bring to life in our spirits. This makes the real difference between persons.”
The other point she developed for me was this: “No one ever finds life worth living. One always has to make it worth living. Look at all the men and women who have lived successful, creative lives—in whatever period of history. They have not always been the prosperous, the fortunate, sitting on the cushioned seats…Look at Jesus—poor, homeless, misunderstood, crucified. Beethoven,” she went on, “created some of his greatest music after he was deaf. Helen Keller and other moderns
have also risen above life’s adversities and misfortunes. They did so in spite of such circumstances and because of the courageous spirit within them.”
Remembering this advice in the intervening years, I have asked myself, “Is life worth living?” and I have found the answer in the attitudes we hold and the quality of our spirit, not outward circumstances. Birth and death, happiness and sorrow, illness and good health, love and loss—these are no respecters of persons. They come alike to all. But not all respond alike. Some go to pieces, dissolve in self-pity, become a burden to others, perhaps even take their own lives in their despair and hopelessness. Others have something in them that in spite of ill fortune enables them to live constructively and creatively.
For the most part then, I think that what things do to us will depend on what they find in us. Life does not consist in holding a good hand, but in playing a bad hand well.
Together with these thoughts inspired by my mother in a dark hour of my life, I have long found help and inspiration in this prayer by Charles Lewis Slattery:
“Almighty God, we thank thee for the job of this day. May we find gladness in all its toil and difficulty, in its pleasure and success, and even in its failure and sorrow. We would look always away from ourselves, and behold the glory and the need of
the world that we may have the will and the strength to bring the gift of gladness to others; that with them we may stand to bear the burden and heat of the day and offer thee the praise of work well done. Amen.”
That was a repeat of an earlier broadcast by Richard H. McFeely, a teacher who stands 6' 2" on his crutches. He has learned better than most of us, we think, that a man can stand up to life if he discovers the strength of his spirit.