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See The Potential

’Tis the month of February.

Cold days. Colder nights.

Stoke the fire. Lay in firewood carefully.

Don’t curse the season. Without February there’re a more uncertain April, an unpredictable May, a doubtful June.

Smile no matter what the weather forecasters say.

If tears appear, let them flow, but then go back to work. Not grudging, make-do work. Try to be mindful of the best we have to offer in each season. Live a better February to build a better spring, a more bountiful summer. A more rewarding autumn. Then another winter.

Less is more, more is less. But listen more, talk less. God gave us two ears, two eyes, but one mouth. Yet some of us were born without ears and were blessed with understanding. Others were born without eyes and they were graced with amazing vision.

I’m thinking of Patrick Henry Hughes.

He turns his head in my direction—I with both eyes and ears, I with aging and failing right eye, stubborn want-to-help left—but eyes nonetheless. And what have I done to earn them? How long would it have taken for me to create them from the vastness of dark space?

Patrick’s arms and legs? Shorter than normal. But what is normal but another word for ordinary?

I don’t know what to say to Patrick when he passes by, so I say with tightened throat: “You were great.”

“Thank you,” he replies with a broad smile from his one, beating heart—he’d done everything he could with everything God had given him.

Twenty-year-old Patrick is in his wheelchair pushed by his father, and I’ve just heard and seen them in an astounding
father-and-son performance at the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives annual meeting banquet in Louisville.

This is Patrick Henry Hughes’ moment in a spotlight he can only imagine. But he hears the standing ovation when his unlikely fingers bring the piano alive and his voice resonates through the banquet hall.

You see, Patrick was born without eyes. None at all. But he’s blessed with vision. In his words, his “disabilities” are “no big deal.”

He was born without legs to take him through the formations of the University of Louisville marching band, but he plays the trumpet from the wheelchair pushed by his father.

This incredible young man—Patrick Henry Hughes—has a grade point average of 3.9. He’s majoring in Spanish and speaks it fluently.

I sit there at the head table thinking I should be in the kitchen washing dishes. I’m embarrassed that so much was wasted on me with piano lessons. Patrick first seized the keyboard when he was 9 months old. When I was that age, I was probably crying over a bottle of spilt milk.

As long as Patrick draws a grateful breath, Ray Charles will keep on playing in Heaven, and I’m on my feet applauding. From whence cometh this talent? What is the source of such passion for soaring power? And think of the parent who pushes the wheelchair.

But then, Patrick just had to go and do it. He invited me and the hundreds at the banquet to join him in the singing of America the Beautiful.

“Oh, beautiful for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain…”

I can’t hold back the tears. I don’t even try. If this young man can conquer fear and replace it with friends and family, then how can I say I’m disadvantaged?

Even if you’ve heard the Patrick Henry Hughes story before (as featured on television’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition in February 2007), even if you’ve been fortunate enough to hear and see Patrick and his father “Putting Things in Their Proper Perspective,” or read his new book I Am Potential, it wouldn’t hurt to give him all the possibilities of February. Would it?

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