The past year’s news events — from the death of South African leader Nelson Mandela to Diana Nyad’s successful swim through the Florida Straits — showcased so many inspirational people. But what about those “everyday people” that cross our paths and change us, if only a little?
They’re inspirational people, too — even if they’re not famous and haven’t done what others would consider incredible things. Sometimes their impact is so subtle, we barely notice it. Yet, their positive influence is unmistakable.
As I ponder the end of 2013, I want to celebrate the people who have inspired me without even knowing it. Perhaps their stories will inspire you to make your own list.
• Neal has been a friend since college. He’s a brilliant man, but that’s not what I find inspiring about him. Neal has been quadriplegic since he was a teenager, and in the 30-something years that I’ve known him, I’ve never heard him complain about his situation. When I think of Neal, I think of laughter, acceptance, and enjoyment of life. Neal is an inspiration because he charges ahead in life eagerly without looking back.
• I met Betty recently at a hiking event. Betty didn’t tell me her age, but she did tell me that when she was 61 she backpacked the entire Appalachian Trail and then the Florida Trail by herself! Betty is an inspiration because she didn’t let anything keep her from achieving a dream — even if she had to do it by herself.
• Stella is an artist and a nature enthusiast. We met several years ago but lost touch and recently reconnected. Stella has the wisdom to know that natural beauty creates peace in life. She created more beauty through the way she cared for her property, her work to help save environmentally sensitive lands and through her art. Stella is an inspiration because she knows there’s beauty just around the corner and she’s willing to put herself out to protect it.
• Leonard and Kathy were visiting Florida for the “Big O Hike” (the annual Thanksgiving hike around Lake Okeechobee) when I met them. For many years they’ve been pursuing their individual dreams together. Kathy helped Leonard hike the highest peaks in each state and Leonard is helping Kathy hike the Transcontinental Hiking Trail. Leonard and Kathy are an inspiration as a couple because they each truly desire for their loved one to be happy.
• Then there are the patients I’ve treated who had the courage to share their pain and allow me to help them change their lives. They are inspirational because they chose to fight fear with courage.
I hope my list gets you thinking about the people who have touched you in 2013. May your new year be filled with inspiration.
Previously published in The Tampa Bay Times