Say you’re five hundred feet from the top of Mt. Whitney. It’s getting late and you’ve literally been crawling your way up, sometimes on all fours. Your friend asks if you want to turn back or keep going. What do you say?
‘Going to the Edge’ was the title of this year’s TEDx Sonoma County and a small crew of coWORKers went to be a part of the live presentation. The person who made the entire audience laugh and cry (literally tears trickling down every face I could see) was Xerxes Whitney, a teacher and coach from Windsor with a mild form of cerebral palsy that has made talking and walking a struggle his entire life.
Unlike the previous speakers who told stories of ‘Going to the Edge’ and successfully achieving the unimaginable, Xerxes’ tale took an unexpected turn. The answer to the above question was not the Hollywood ending with a triumphant climax at the top of the mountain as an exultant soundtrack closed the scene. Nope. The power in that moment was this strong, brave man’s ability to not give up, but accept. To accept his limitations and stop fighting to impress the world with his ability to overcome his hardships, and instead embrace who he was and celebrate the life he was given. “Don’t fight it. Embrace it.”
And so, he turned back and began an even more difficult journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance. “What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” And that’s when the waterworks started. Something really powerful in that moment resonated with the audience is such a palpable way that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Xerxes had our full attention and our unequivocal admiration.
This balance between drive and acceptance is one we all need to address. I’ve often pondered how one can embody both motivation and contentment. Somewhere in there must lie the key to a meaningful life.
Written and photographed by Natasha Juliana.