The Strength of Disability
written by Rev Gary Heard

The Chasers used to run a regular segment entitled, “If life were a musical,” which involved setting up an encounter in the street which culminated in the actor singing a song to the bemused look of others. While this was meant as a parody, it reflects a deeper truth about the ways in which our life perceptions are shaped more by story and song than we care to admit. Our lives are told in story form – we tell stories to friends to make sense of events in our lives and invite others into a shared meaning and a shared experience.

And then there are stories which help us to see through particular barriers to meaning and knowing. One particular story has caught my attention:

A 10-year-old boy decided to study judo despite the fact that he had lost his left arm in a devastating car accident. The boy began lessons with an old Japanese judo master. The boy was doing well, so he couldn't understand why, after three months of training the master had taught him only one move.

"Sensei," the boy finally said, "Shouldn't I be learning more moves?

"This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you'll ever need to know," the sensei replied. Not quite understanding, but believing in his teacher, the boy kept training.

Several months later, the sensei took the boy to his first tournament. Surprising himself, the boy easily won his first two matches. The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy deftly used his one move to win the match. Still amazed by his success, the boy was now in the finals. This time, his opponent was bigger, stronger, and more experienced. For a while, the boy appeared to be overmatched. Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the referee called a time-out. He was about to stop the match when the sensei intervened.

"No," the sensei insisted, "Let him continue." Soon after the match resumed, his opponent made a critical mistake: he dropped his guard. Instantly, the boy used his move to pin him. The boy had won the match and the tournament.

He was the champion. On the way home, the boy and sensei reviewed every move in each and every match. Then the boy summoned the courage to ask what was really on his mind. "Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only one move?" "You won for two reasons," the sensei answered. "First, you've almost mastered one of the most difficult throws in all of judo. And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your left arm." The boy's biggest weakness had become his biggest strength.

Our lives are structured and empowered according to purposes which sometimes are beyond our imagination. It is stories like these – and the gospel story – which provide meaning, shape and hope. Those who have ears, let them hear.


May 25, 2008
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