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  • Melissa Westemeier


My youngest offspring has always needed to move. He runs, jumps, flips, spins, and throws with dexterity and speed. Sport is as essential to him as breathing or protein. When he was little, he could park it for about an hour (or the equivalent of two Zooboomafus) before leaping off the couch to start running around the room and finding some object to launch through the air. It goes without saying that life sucked when he tore his ACL, MCL, and meniscus at the end of his sophomore year and had to sit out for three seasons of sports. He'd barely gotten his stride back when he slid into third base and partially tore his labrum during baseball season last year. Naturally it didn't take long for him to dislocate his shoulder--several times--during football season and completely mess up the works. Cue a new surgery, a new rehab period, another two seasons sidelined. A lousy way to end high school.

Mr. G messed up his right shoulder, which is his dominant side. He's always skewed ambidextrous, but favors his right hand. His injury and surgery affected his ability to do school work to some degree, and there aren't many extracurricular courses a guy can take one-handed (what with all the typing and note-taking and so forth). Of course one of his classes second semester was Painting I. I had visions of my kid perched on a stool with a paintbrush clenched between his teeth. The teacher, Mr. Brunn, is one of those amazing art teachers who's more about getting kids to try new things and find ways to express themselves creatively than he is about perfection. He encouraged Mr. G to do his best left-handed and see where the journey took him. The only way Mr. G could fail is if he didn't try.

About a month into the class Mr. G came home and announced that he was working on a painting and he felt quite proud of it. He explained that it was really hard painting left-handed, he got tired using that side, but the final product was turning out really cool. Two weeks later he brought it home:

I gasped when I saw it. Mr. G admitted he was surprised by it, too. He always enjoyed art, but this experience pushed him to explore his options and use different approaches. The colors, the textures, the shading--I felt so proud of him. My kid painted this using his weaker, undeveloped hand! When forced out of his comfort zone and working one-handed, he discovered he could still create something beautiful. I didn't expect Mr. G to bring home something so striking.

I propped Mr. G's mountain masterpiece above the fireplace and every time I look at it I am reminded that people can accomplish incredible things when they try using their other hand. People can adjust, shift their approach, strengthen different muscles, discover new abilities. Facing a challenge can result in unexpected discoveries of hidden talents and skills. Can't paint right-handed? Pick up the brush with your left and get started.

In many situations I've been restricted and needed to adjust. When I was little, my asthma forced me to slow down and I discovered a voracious appetite for reading, an activity that didn't make me wheeze. When a doctor told me I had to stop running or get my knee replaced before I turned fifty, I discovered I enjoyed hiking and swimming and these activities made my whole body stronger. When I knew I couldn't grow anymore as a writer without a network, I signed up for a summer writing workshop at the University of Iowa and met four women who pushed me to improve my work more than I could've on my own.

Sometimes things don't work out like we think they should--whether it's our fault or due to circumstances beyond our control. Mr. G's painting inspires me to look for the surprising beauty I can discover if I'm willing to adjust.

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