By Carson Tueller
We have successfully concluded another Affirmation conference! I had the distinct pleasure of traveling down to Fort Myers, Florida to speak at the SE Affirmation Conference. The experience was a unique one for me since I have never traveled without family since having a spinal cord injury. It was very rewarding on many levels, and as with all Affirmation events I have attended, I was uplifted, inspired, and met some exemplary individuals who live their lives in brave and authentic ways.
When I was asked late last year if I would be the keynote speaker for this conference, I thought, “I have little credibility, I have no academic specialty, and I am only 24 years old! What do I really have to offer?!” I was told that the theme of the conference and my keynote address would be “Be Inspired, Be Inspiring”, and began to formulate ideas for material that would help me cover my speaking time. I ran into some walls and found myself feeling frustrated that I had accepted with so little experience. Admittedly, I was a bit concerned.
I began to think about inspiration in general and put out a request for some help on Facebook and basically asked, “What inspires you?” I got a range of descriptions of what inspires people, ranging from mountains, to the universe, to influential individuals. I realized quickly as I talked with others that I needed to narrow down what kind of inspiring I would be talking on. I looked up a few definitions and found one that I liked the most.
to fill with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence:
His courage inspired his followers.
So even though people are inspired by many difference things, I chose to focus on people, since that was what seemed most practical. Be Inspiring. I made a list of influential individuals who have had an impact on the world, or who have accomplished magnificent things. Here’s a small list:
Mother Teresa: A catholic woman who dedicated her life to serving the poor and sick. Won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and lived most of her life in India. Founded “Missionaries of Charity”.
Martin Luther King: Won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Assassinated for his efforts.
Michael Phelps: Olympic swimmer and most decorated athlete in olympic history. World record holder.
Abraham Lincoln: Led the United States through the Civil War, abolished slavery and was a great moral leader. Assassinated for his efforts during the Civil War.
Helen Keller: A blind, deaf woman who overcame her disabilities and became the first blinddeaf woman to receive a bachelor of arts degree. An author and activist.
Wilma Rudolf: Contracted polio at age four, and suffered partial paralysis as a result. Recovered, but suffered from a twisted foot and leg for years later as a result. Received frequent treatment and later became a two-time olympic athlete, and was considered the fastest woman in the world during her time.
I got to this point and hit another wall, not knowing how to take my remarks into a practical arena. I obviously couldn’t just tell everyone, “Okay, go out and do your best to make the most-inspirational list. Ready… go!” There was a practical application that I was searching for. It was then that I made a realization that altered the trajectory of my comments and vision. I realized that anyone could be giving a talk about inspirational people, but asked, “What do I have to give? I don’t have official credentials, but I do have experience. What does Carson know personally?” I continued to consider the ways I have been inspired since having a spinal cord injury (SCI).
I have been inspired time after time by small and seemingly insignificant gestures of kindness and especially love. I realized that on the days when I really need to be “filled with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence”, as the definition says, I don’t usually look to the world-level inspirers. The individuals on the list above have proven that people can do and overcome great things, and inspire within me a vision of what I can become, should I demonstrate the same qualities. Though I am grateful for their influence, it is not to them that I look for support and inspiration when it really counts. I go to the inspirers of my everyday life. I look to my parents, siblings, and friends for that kind of day-to-day inspiration.
One experience dealing with my spinal cord injury gave me some valuable insight, and was something that I felt that I could share that was unique to me. Growing up, I was an experienced tumbler and went with my family to a local trampoline park for some fun. I was doing some simple maneuvers into a foam pit when I bottomed out and broke my neck. At the moment I realized I was injured, I had a million thoughts and images fly through my head; realizations of what an SCI could mean for my life. Thoughts of me running, swimming and playing the flute or piano. For the first thirty seconds I felt deep concern and some angst over what I was experiencing. Then I felt something that, to this day, I cannot describe adequately, nor can I really decide where it came from… but I suddenly thought of all my friends and family, those I love most. I had the distinct feeling that if I had love I had everything and because of that I was going to be okay. That idea did not only provide momentary comfort to me, but also served as foresight as to where I would derive my hope and happiness from during a hellish time. It would be from people. Every-day people.
I have often said/thought that I wanted to make an imprint on the world in some constructive way. I want to be a world-changer, for the better. I used to believe that I needed to change every person in the world to change it, but now realize that I change it by changing just one person… by serving just one person. That was the message that I ended up giving to this group. We don’t need to be world-level inspirers to do our part. We can do great things in our own circles of influence.
I’m not sure where this quote comes from, but it reads something like, “No single raindrop thinks itself responsible for the flood”. It is more a quote about blame, but I think it can be read in the light of responsibility. We sometimes don’t think our efforts can contribute greatly if we are not doing incredible things. I believe that each drop is indeed responsible for the flood, whatever the nature of that flood may be. We cannot go through our lives without affecting the life of another.
From my own life, I have many examples of humble supporters that have done great things for me, but one seems to stand out in the context of being an inspirational raindrop. When I was first injured, I experienced an outpouring of support and love which lasted for many many months and even continues today. This got me through hard moments. Hellish moments. There was one individual who told me in the hospital that she would send me an inspirational quote everyday. So, I began receiving texts while I was in the hospital. A message came almost every day, and if I didn’t get a quote one day, I always got a makeup quote the next day. I have been amazed that, to the current date, I receive a thoughtful text from this person every day. There was one message that stood out to me in particular, because this young lady explained to me that she experienced some intense learning disabilities. I got the impression that she thought that these were somewhat limiting to her. I thought of the days where I have been angry and upset, and had suddenly received a messages a day that has been not only thoughtful but even relevant. Her learning disability certainly didn’t change how effective her kindness was to me. This young lady is a great example to me of what simple acts of love can do. By reaching out to me she’s not exhibiting any outstanding gifts or abilities (though I’m sure she has them), but is exhibiting great thoughtfulness. I greatly admire her consistency. She inspires me as a powerful raindrop in my life.
The above ideas on inspiration were the ones that I shared and also discussed as a group. In our discussion, we covered specific ways that LGBT Mormons can be inspiring. We spoke of breaking down negative stereotypes through love and forgiveness. We spoke of being a pioneer and blazing a difficult path in the church in hopes that our successors will more easily reconcile their conflict of sexuality and faith. It simply takes courage to do what we do, and to be who we are! I may have been the one directing the conversation on inspiration, but I believe I came away as inspired as anyone in attendance. The greatest asset in our discussion was the vulnerability that many demonstrated, which allowed for a beautiful feeling throughout the conference. I look forward to the future as LGBT Mormons continue to make sacrifices with a beautiful future in mind.
I continue to struggle, and I always pray that the day will come when I feel a bit more comfortable in my “new” skin. I’m not sure what the future holds and I’m not certain that will ever happen… My experience in Florida will be one I can draw from in the future, seeing as it was both very rewarding and very difficult. Boy, did I want to get in the water at the beach! But what I did enjoy was the presence of some incredible people, and felt love. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what life is all about?
Let me know if you have any questions! You can shoot me a text too.