Leading up to the Super Bowl, an intriguing story about an avid fan came to light in the sports media. Matthew Jeffers, a senior majoring in acting at Towson University in Maryland, wrote an e-mail in late 2012 to the now-Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, his favorite NFL team. It was a perspective of his struggles with skeletal dysplasia, in relation to the struggles of winning a Super Bowl, with the ultimate lesson that life is not fair, that it “does not care about three-game losing streaks, or four-game win streaks…. The only disability in life is a bad attitude…. A positive attitude is the most positive combatant to life’s misfortunes.”
February has been designated North American Inclusion Month (NAIM) by Yachad, a division of the Orthodox Union devoted to supporting individuals with special needs. What inspires me every day is the attitude of people like my Yedidya and Matthew Jeffers. They live life without fear and they confront new challenges each and every day. They have terrific attitudes. In this month, when we focus on shifting our attitudes toward the special-needs population, our task may just be to emulate these exceptional people in our midst.
Many of us have unfortunate attitudes. We fail to fully be there for others because we are too busy being focused on ourselves and our issues and problems. We let the vicissitudes of life too easily knock us down. It takes a spiritual giant to truly feel the pain of another and to be an “equal” in the truest sense.
My son’s disability does and will allow him to continue to give others this terrific gift of compassion and shared humanity. I choose to watch football with Yedidya over others because he not only makes me laugh with his enthusiasm and descriptions of the game but also because he teaches me profound lessons about the game of life.Rabbi Dovid M. Cohen
About the Author: Rabbi Dovid M. Cohen is director of synagogues for New York and director of community outreach for Yachad, both roles at the Orthodox Union. His popular book “We’re Almost There: Living with Patience, Perseverance and Purpose” was published earlier this year by Mosaica Press. It is available at Jewish bookstores and on his website, www.rabbidovidmcohen.com.
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