In June 1969, a set of identical twins were born almost six weeks premature, in a small hospital in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
The oxygen-rich environment of the hospital incubator had a negative effect on the babies’ eyes, stopping them from growing to normal size. Eventually, the retinas got detached, and both boys became blind.
Their single mother Nancy, after enduring an extremely difficult pregnancy, was not as bothered by their blindness as the doctors had expected. She was just relieved her angels were alive, so she named them Gabriel and Michael.
Growing up, the two angels handled blindness very differently. In grade school, they were teased and bullied mercilessly. Gabriel got so mad when people made fun of him.
He would lash out and start a fight, which he would inevitably lose because he was small, blind and outnumbered. He would scream and yell and swear at the bullies until the teachers would come running, only for the other kids to disappear, leaving him standing there, apparently screaming at nobody.
The teachers would invariably get the wrong idea and punish Gabriel for unruly behaviour.
Michael was different. He just didn’t care. It was almost as if he couldn’t hear the incessant chants of “Blind Black Boys” that the other kids kept following him and his brother around with.
When the bigger, nastier kids started pushing them around, Mikey would immediately sit or lie down on the ground. As soon as the kids realised they couldn’t keep pushing him while he was down, they would turn their attention to his more responsive brother, Gabe.
Mikey would simply curl up into a ball and turn up the volume on his Walkman, drowning out the noise all around him.
As they grew older, Gabe became more and more aggressive, while Mikey became more temperate and reserved. As teenagers, Gabe got into scrapes with the law, while Mikey pursued interests that allowed him to spend hours on his own, away from other people.
He would read his braille books for hours, mess around with his calculator, explore the world on his laptop, or sit at his bedroom window listening to birds, cars and trains for hours on end.
In June 2009, Professor Michael Turner, at the age of 40, got tenure at the University of Connecticut, and was appointed the head of the College of Statistics and Applied Mathematics.
He has published papers with Stephen Hawking, and has lectured in Harvard, Yale, Oxford and Cambridge. He is one of the most respected mathematicians in the world, and an inspiration to generations of young men and women with disabilities all over the planet,
In June 2009, Gabriel Turner, in a fit of rage, strangled his fiancé Maggie to death in front of their one-year-old daughter. He is currently on Death Row, awaiting execution.
Friends, I tell you this story to highlight one simple truth about your life. Your success is not determined by who gave birth to you, or how you were born. It’s not about your ability or disability.
It’s not about your experiences in school, or your adolescent years. It’s not about peer pressure, or religious background. It’s not about whether you’re black or white. It’s not about any of these things over which you have little or no control.
Your success in this life is not determined simply by your environment, it’s determined by how you let your environment affect you.
Gabriel and Michael were born identical and suffered the same handicap at birth. They were both raised by the same mother in the same city. They both suffered the same abuse in school, and both grew up dealing with the same stigma and embarrassment that society attached to their condition. The only difference between the brothers was in how they chose to react to their environment.
This is not a matter of philosophy, or a sociological opinion, this is a proven principle of physics. Ships don’t sink because of the water around them. Ships sink because of the water that gets IN them.
Your environment will never be perfect. The forces that seek to influence you will not always be positive. That is the reality of the world, and it is totally out of your control. What we do have control over, is how much you allow yourself to be affected by your environment.
So ask yourself today: just how much would you like the world’s hardships to affect you? It’s entirely your call, my dear friend.
My name is Kojo Yankson, and I’m always checking for leaks, so this tough world doesn’t sink my ship.
GOOD MORNING, GHANAFO!