COLUMN — Hard work, determination can take us far

Published 6:00 am Friday, August 21, 2020

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The last two months we have seen many demonstrations regarding equality for all. 

It is right and fair to have orderly conversations and demonstrations about where we are in our treatment of others.  However, no one is guaranteed anything in life.  We should focus on giving everyone the opportunity to a fair start in life.  That does not equate to a fair or equal outcome.

There can be little argument that our society has not always been fair to all. That is true in the U.S. as well as many other countries in the world. The question is, how can we make it better for everyone? It certainly is not by rioting and looting.  It is not by killing or maiming citizens or law enforcement officers as we have seen for the last number of weeks.

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We can best begin by heeding the 10 commandments. Just to mention a couple, we are admonished to not steal or covet that which belongs to others.  Yet much of today’s society is focused on worldly possessions.  Advertisers gear their marketing to encourage us to covet the shiniest new object.  If one cannot afford it, some then believe that they have somehow been mistreated rather than work to achieve their desires.

John O’Leary

As an example, John O’Leary was born in St. Louis, Missouri.  His early years were like most boys, playing with friends and he liked sports.  He would listen to the radio broadcasts of as many St. Louis Cardinal games as he could.  Like most boys, he was tempted to try things.  One of those “things” dealt with gasoline, a lawnmower, and a match. The result was an explosion that resulted in third-degree burns over 80% of his 12-year-old body.

By chance, and at the request of someone, the man who was the voice of the Cardinals came to the hospital. He asked the doctor what the chances were that John would survive. Out of earshot, the doctor said there was no chance. The man sat with John for a while, then, before leaving, said, “Keep fighting.” The man decided to go back over again and again to that hospital room to visit John, who refused to die.

For those who believe that fairness is equal, all would agree that things were unfair for John.  He had his ability to function as a normal human being stripped of him in a flash.  He would not be able to do anything that most of us take for granted. The one asset that he did have was a mind and a determination to not give up.  The man did not identify himself when he came into the hospital room the first day or any day after, but John recognized him by his voice from those many Cardinal games.

John survived. After many months in the hospital, he was able to be released. After years of physical therapy, he was able to walk and function to some degree somewhat normally.  But that is only one part of the story.  With missing fingers, he learned how to please his mother by becoming a master pianist. 

Years later, the Cardinals invited him to deliver the first pitch of the ball season. His children didn’t want him to try because they didn’t want to be embarrassed by a wild throw from his nub of a hand.  Yet he practiced and practiced until he could pitch it across the plate.

Today, John makes light of his physical challenges as a motivational speaker and has written several books.  He is a legend in the St. Louis area. He attributes his survival and success to the power of prayer and the inner strength to do what he sets his mind to do.

Thankfully, none of us face challenges like John. Hopefully, all of us can learn by his story that we can do better if we try, but someone will always be more successful.  There will always be challenges, but hard work and determination can take us far. We must all reject the notion that woe is me.  If one works hard, you can be at peace with who you are and what you have.

Frank Ruff Jr. serves as the 15th District senator in Virginia. He can be reached at, (434) 374-5129 or P.O. Box 332, Clarksville, VA 23927.