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Good people (10/25/2009)
By Janet Lewis Burns
Each life and every action affects others. In today’s society, people aren’t willing to accept responsibility for their own bad behavior. It seems there’s always someone else to blame. Then there are those who have accepted their fate and go about the business of living with their fates, hope and gratefulness in their hearts.

Armin and Helen Conway lived down the street from our Lewis family with their two boys, Tom and Charles. I remember to this day how my heart went out to Mrs. Conway as I would catch glimpses of her going about daily routines. Like all mothers back then, she hung the family laundry on clotheslines out-back. Helen had one limp arm. She always smiled broadly. With a pang of empathy, I marveled at her carrying heaping clothesbaskets, and how she would throw her immobile arm up to the clothesline with her good arm to pin the wash.

When I read Rabbi Harold Kushner’s national bestseller “When Bad Things Happen To Good People,” about 28 years ago, it graciously changed my perception of faith in God. The premise of the 149-page gem is that no one is immune to suffering, and that bad things do happen to good people. God gives believers the strength and courage to make the best of and to withstand all that life doles out.

Other than natural disasters, tragedies and misfortunes come about from unjust and careless choices made by mankind, and not punishment by God. Be careful what you wish for. Vowing to give up smoking if you could just win the lottery is simply exchanging one disaster for another. As you complain about having to help the kids with their homework every evening, realize that there are parents searching slum areas and dirty, cold, city alleys for their runaway kids, those who may be imprisoned in prostitution rings and street drugs.

So you detest your bulging figure and are going to max out your credit card for a tummy tuck, because your best friend had a successful nose job and your aerobics instructor looks hot with her new breast transplants? Bring to mind the images of our U.S. troops who have come home from war with lost limbs, disfigured bodies and broken spirits. Look in your mirror again.

For many years our family has lived across the street from dear friends Kent and Dawn Erdmann and their sons Dan and Paul. A surmountable challenge for the strong-willed and devoted family, Paul was born with spina bifida, an imperfect closure of part of the spinal column, which often results in paralysis. Thankfully, Paul has been living a full and well-rounded life into adulthood, his reality a mobilized chair and crutches. He drives a vehicle, has a job, and lives independently. Having endured countless painful surgeries in his youth, Paul and his family have cheerfully weathered the storms together, a lesson of fortitude to the community.

Our family has a great deal to be thankful for. When we found out that Paul had been born with spina bifida, Dr. Degallier’s comment in the delivery room at the time of our son’s birth brought us to our knees. He told us, “You’re lucky that the hole that I stitched shut on Mike’s scalp wasn’t on his spine.” It was through Paul that we understood the impact of that statement.

Neighbors during my youth, several members of the large Siebenaler family were stricken with polio. In school, Ruth’s thin legs and prominent limp were no detriment to her sparkling personality and her spunk. Ruth, now a widow, wowed us all at our 45th class reunion! She was the one dressed in a knockout, black dress, bubbling over with spirit, who remarked as she left, waving her feather boa, “You just gotta keep smiling and hang in there!” Ruth glided out the door, never more beautiful.

Janet Burns was raised and continues to live in Lewiston. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com.  


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