On occasion I think the vast majority of us tend to forget to take a moment here and there to take in the absolute majesty of the nation we live in and the opportunities that are laid before us as we travel through life.
These things don’t have to be large in stature to impress me. A good example of that came to me as I sat on the dock one morning this last winter while having coffee and watched an osprey dive into the water from a perch on the screen enclosure of a home near to us. As quickly as he dove down, he would rise up with his treasure held firmly in his grasp. He would return to his perch 30 feet above me and would begin a slow and methodical dissection of his catch.
That osprey would take a little for himself and then fly to the nest he had constructed across the water from me and watch over two of his chicks as they would devour the morning catch. It is quite a joy to watch how nature carries out the very fundamental needs to provide for its circle of life.
On Saturday, May 11, Liberty University hosted 45,000 parents, relatives and friends who gathered to celebrate 8,000 students graduating from that institution and hear Vice President Mike Pence give the Commencement Address.
In 1996 two of my closest friends back in New Hampshire brought a beautiful young lady into this world. Her father David is a fraternity brother of mine from college. We first met at an alumni function back in 1986. We became great friends and share a bond of brotherhood which few understand. His wife Liz and two other daughters, Marissa and Ashley have also become an important part of my life and I enjoy the times I get to spend with them, even though many miles separate us today.
I would never say that Amanda’s birth was anything but a wonderful gift from God, but with it came challenges, as Amanda was born with cerebral palsy. She was afflicted with a neurological disorder which primarily affects body movement and muscle coordination.
It is estimated that 764,000 children and adults are impacted, with approximately 10,000 children born a year which will develop cerebral palsy.
Despite being born with these significant challenges and physicians who gave her little hope to ever walk or have a significant quality of life, the commitment of her parents never wavered, nor has her desire to be a contributing member of our society.
Amanda and her mom spent about two months with me about 18 years ago during the winter. Their home in New Hampshire had been the victim of a cruel water leak. It’s kind of difficult getting the exercise necessary to work on stiff muscles and joints in the winter in the Northeast. The warm rays of the sun and tepid waters of the pool soon helped a little girl to begin to come into her own.
Amanda had a walker, which she hated; however, the encouragement of a treat, at what would become her favorite ice cream shop on the island each evening, would soon give her the encouragement she needed.
Our award would come from seeing her grin and smile as she rolled into that ice cream shop every night and the kindness that was extended by the shop’s owner.
It wouldn’t be long before she would be scooting everywhere, strengthening the muscles in her legs, improving her balance and gaining the coordination that many of the professionals doubted she would ever obtain. She would even become a bit of a tadpole in the pool, just loving the water and getting the exercise she so greatly needed as a bonus.
Those experiences and the love shown to her and her mother put little Amanda on a path which would see her walk across the stage and receive her diploma at Liberty University on May 11th, just like another 7,999 other young men and women as they prepare to enter the world and make their own marks.
My friends, Liz and Dave, along with their entire family fed Amanda with the love and encouragement throughout her life to allow her to take that walk across the stage. This is similar to the osprey who would bring nourishment to her young chicks in their nest across from our dock to ensure they would become strong enough to make their journey out into the world beyond their nest.
During his address to the assembly at Liberty University, Vice President Pence would tell them, “America needs men and women of strength, integrity and faith now more than ever.”
Amanda has what it takes to continue the wonderful contributions to this nation that are needed today to continue the vision which President Ronald Reagan described in his farewell address, as “America being a shining city on a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.”
I am so proud of her and equally as proud of her parents, relatives and friends who helped make this happen. I am also proud to know she was catapulted towards this great day of accomplishment by a short stay on a truly magical island that helped to make this dream come true.