Never Say Never
Articles Inspirational articles from Hay House authors
Never Say NeverPushing past impossible.
My friend Randy owned a music store, and he asked if I’d like to get paid to teach some of his customers to play the drums. I figured, What better job could there be than to teach people the thing I loved most?
Things were going along fine, until one morning when Randy called up to say he had a very special student for me. He requested that I come down right away, so I raced down to the shop. On my way inside, I practically tripped over a guy in a wheelchair who’d positioned himself in the middle of the doorway.
“Danny, I’m glad you’re here,” Randy said as I entered the shop. “I want you to meet your new student, Al. He’s here for his first lesson.”
I looked around the store but didn’t see anyone except the guy in the wheelchair. Turning back to Randy, I shrugged my shoulders and held out my arms. “Where?”
“Right here. Danny, meet Al.”
I looked down at the guy sitting limply in his wheelchair a few feet away. I nodded blankly in his direction, then put my arm on Randy’s shoulder and steered him toward the back of the store. “Are you serious, man?” I whispered in his ear. “That guy is my student? You’ve gotta be kidding! What are you thinking?”
“You said you wanted to teach drums, didn’t you?” Randy retorted.
“Well, Al wants to learn to play drums. He’s your student; you’re his teacher. So go teach.”
My next complaint echoed words I’d heard about myself a thousand times: “There’s just no way . . . I can’t teach the drums to some guy who barely sits up and drools all over himself. Just look at him! That guy’s paralyzed!”
“What’s the matter with you?” Randy asked in disbelief. “Don’t you remember what it took for you to learn how to play? Do you think that the world thought you would be a great drummer one day?”
I wandered back over to Al, introduced myself, and vowed to make the best of it. I wheeled him to the far end of the store and into the practice studio where I’d set up two drum kits—one for the student, and one for me. I watched him as he sat in his chair admiring the set before him.
Al was a quadriplegic. On top of that, he wasn’t able to talk—he had a computer with him that he typed on by moving a plastic stick along the keyboard with his chin, which would then “speak” whatever he’d typed in. Where the hell was I supposed to begin? The guy couldn’t sit in his chair without sliding toward the floor; the idea of him just holding a drumstick seemed out of the question.
Over the course of that first hour-long lesson, we didn’t even try to play drums. Instead, we just got to know each other a little. I figured I had to know what had happened to him, what his ability was, and all that kind of stuff before I set up a game plan.
I asked questions, and Al typed his answers. He told me the following: he’d been in a car accident ten years before; he was left paralyzed below the neck, other than some slight use in his lower arms and left hand; he was unable to speak; and, moreover, he’d suffered severe head trauma that left him with the mental capacity of a ten-year-old. The more he told me, the more I thought, Man, I better give this guy his money back. . . .
But when our session was over, Al’s nurse/assistant arrived to pick him up, and I asked her to bring him back again the next day. That’s when I finally let him attempt to hold a drumstick. Al had been a guitar player before his accident, so he did have some musical sense buried deep inside his near-lifeless body. Maybe there was hope after all! (Or, I hoped there was hope.)
During that second session, Al was able to hold the stick with his left hand. But his grip was so weak that, as I watched him attempt to tap on the snare, I became immediately discouraged. I wanted to be a better teacher—wanted not to feel the way I was feeling—but I couldn’t help myself. I was afraid that I couldn’t help a man with such severe limitations play an instrument again.
When Al left that second day, he hadn’t made one solid drumbeat during our hour together. I went to talk to Randy. “I don’t think I can do this. It’s too much . . . the guy can hardly hold a stick. He can’t do anything,” I said flatly.
Boy, did Randy give it to me good when he heard that. “You’re the most selfish person I have ever met,” he shot back. “Don’t you remember all the help and support you got when you began? You couldn’t hold a stick in the beginning either—not for an entire month!”
The next day I went to Randy and apologized for my behavior. I thanked him for pointing out the level of my selfishness and asked him to book Al for some more lessons. In the coming months, I’d teach my student the same way I learned, figuring out how to hold the drumsticks in a way that would work for him.
I told Al that there wouldn’t be any actual drumming at first. We were just going focus on his life force, on finding a way for him to move the necessary fingers just enough to hold on to the stick. I knew that I just had to get Al to see the big picture. If I could, then over the course of our lessons he’d finally find his way: he’d discover his own sound, his own tempo, and maybe even a new life. It was the least I could do—the most I could do!—to help a guy who just wanted to play the drums.
One morning, after spending four months trying to get a finger on Al’s left hand to move, it began to twitch. At first I thought it was a spasm or something, but I could see in his eyes that Al felt it, and that he knew something momentous had just happened. He began to weep, and a surge of joyous energy ran up my spine and buzzed through my head.
Within a month or so, my student was holding a drumstick and even tapping the drumhead a few times. It was remarkable, but the drumming became secondary to what was really going on—a sort of spiritual healing that was transferring into this man’s atrophied muscles and bones. By the end of the year, Al had defied all of the doctors who’d told him he’d never walk again and had actually gotten up and was able to move around using a walker! Before long, he was even starting to speak.
In the years to come, I’d often look back at Al’s desire to play the drums despite the fact that so many others, including myself, had said it was impossible. He’s the perfect example of the student teaching the teacher, and a testament to the power of positive thinking.