Carl Mays: “It is not what you have lost, but what you have left that counts”

May. 22, 2014 @ 03:31 PM

Having served as master of ceremonies for the Gatlinburg Veterans Day program for many years, I have been interested in seeing the proliferation of TV commercials and programs for disabled, handicapped or paralyzed veterans recently. They have led to my paying attention to notes and articles regarding veterans as I have been sorting through files in a continuing process of eliminating some of the many items I have collected since my school days. (Just ask Jean about file cabinets, attics, storages and warehouses.)

I uncovered a Sept. 1, 1983, article from the Baptist Messenger about veteran Harold Russell, a sergeant paratrooper in World War II who lost both hands. The article details how, in the first agonizing weeks after his loss, he was overwhelmed at the idea of going through life with steel hooks instead of hands. He didn’t care much whether he lived or died. He thought bitterly, “What good am I now? What can a man do without hands? My life is over.”

But one day Charley McGonegal, who had lost his hands in World War I, visited Russell in the hospital. He helped the paratrooper to see that the first and greatest obstacle he had to overcome was himself. McGonegal gave Russell a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson that had always helped him, and that he thought perhaps would help Russell: “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else.” A major shortly after that told Russell, “You are not crippled, you are merely handicapped.”

Russell put those two thoughts together – and said it transformed his life. He fought his way back from bleak despair to radiant triumph and victory. He played a leading role in “The Best Years of Our Lives” and won two Academy Awards. He wrote his autobiography and became successful as an author and as an actor. He spent much of his time in helping handicapped people overcome.

He said, “My weakness, my handlessness, my sense of inferiority, has turned out to be my greatest strength. It is not what you have lost, but what you have left that counts. Many men and women have conquered physical handicaps, have fought through anguish and defeat to rise to great personal triumph with what they have left.”

The Baptist Messenger article went on to emphasize that some of our greatest handicaps are not physical, and all of us in some sense have handicaps. The article then quoted Paul’s words in Philippians 4:6-7, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs and don’t forget to thank him for his answers. If you do this you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand…”

Through the years as I have spoken to various groups, and especially in the Sunday school classes I have taught and in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings I have led, I have often added the following to Paul’s advice: “Pray as if everything depends on God – and work as if everything depends on you.” We always have to answer to God and to ourselves.

© 2014 by Carl Mays, National Speakers Association Hall of Fame member and author of books. Email or view