The last few weeks have been filled with inspiring messages for me. A girlfriend called with tickets to hear astronaut Captain Mark Kelly and his beautiful wife Congresswoman Gabby Giffords speak. This extraordinary couple, who have each achieved so much and suffered through a horrifying assassination attempt on Gabby’s life in 2011, candidly shared their stories, making us laugh, cry and feel incredibly inspired.
Mark did most of the talking simply because his wife can’t. Gabby Giffords was shot in the head from only a couple of feet away. Six more people were shot and killed that day, including a 9 year old girl waiting patiently in line to ask a question of her Congresswoman. Another 12 people were injured. Gifford’s days are now spent in intense physical therapy, following multiple operations to piece her shattered skull and eye sockets back together.
The talk was filled with fascinating and funny anecdotes from Mark Kelly’s four stints into space. He told of how average he was as a student and initially as a pilot. He claimed that the only way he fulfilled his dream of becoming an astronaut was to set himself goals, targets to aim for, and then put in the hard work to reach them. The couple always thought his job was the dangerous one, so when he got the terrible phone call telling him his wife had been shot he didn’t believe it at first and had to call back to make sure it wasn’t something he had just imagined. On his flight to be by his wife’s side he had to endure news reports announcing her death. Their future is going to be all about the long slow battle back to health for Gabby, but along the way they are inspiring Americans and working to change gun control laws.
The following day I joined a group of parents who are trained as art docents so we can teach art to kids in school. We learned about the portrait artist Chuck Close. He is a happy guy who absolutely adores what he does for a living. He also happens to be one of the most successful artists alive today. He paints gigantic photorealistic portraits.
Chuck Close had every reason not to succeed in life. His dad died when he was only 11 years old. He had a learning disability that saw his teachers treat him as a someone who would only ever wind up doing menial jobs. He had (and still has) a socially debilitating condition called face blindness which stops him from recognizing the faces of even his closest friends and family members. As an adult, he was found to have a debilitating disease which forced him into a wheelchair. He is now a quadriplegic. His paintings sell for hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars. Here are a few of the brilliant rules Chuck Close lives by:
In 8th grade he was told not to even think about going to college. After 2 years of community college, he won a coveted scholarship to Yale University’s art program. “Never let anyone define what you are capable of by using parameters that don’t apply to you.”
“Virtually everything I’ve done is influenced by my learning disabilities.”
“Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”
“Every great idea I’ve ever had grew out of work itself.”
I’m starting this year thankful for so much but especially for the chance to hear the stories of truly heroic people like Chuck Close, Mark Kelly, and Gabby Giffords.