A light drizzle was falling as my sister Jill and I ran out of the Methodist Church, eager to get home and play with the presents that Santa had left for us and our baby sister, Sharon. Across the street from the church was a Pan American gas station where the Greyhound bus stopped. It was closed for Christmas, but I noticed a family standing outside the locked door, huddled under the narrow overhang in an attempt to keep dry. I wondered briefly why they were there but then forgot about them as I raced to keep up with Jill.
Once we got home, there was barely time to enjoy our presents. We had to go off to our grandparents’ house for our annual Christmas dinner. As we drove down the highway through town, I noticed that the family was still there, standing outside the closed gas station.
My father was driving very slowly down the highway. The closer we got to the turnoff for my grandparents’ house, the slower the car went. Suddenly, my father U-turned in the middle of the road and said, “I can’t stand it!”
“What?” asked my mother.
“It's those people back there at the Pan Am, standing in the rain. They've got children. It's Christmas. I can’t stand it.”
When my father pulled into the service station, I saw that there were five of them: the parents and three children ― two girls and a small boy.
My father rolled down his window. “Merry Christmas,” he said.
“Howdy,” the man replied. He was very tall and had to stoop slightly to peer into the car.
Jill, Sharon, and I stared at the children, and they stared back at us.
“You waiting on the bus?” my father asked.
The man said that they were. They were going to Birmingham, where he had a brother and prospects of a job.
“Well, that bus isn’t going to come along for several hours, and you’re getting wet standing here. Winborn’s just a couple miles up the road. They’ve got a shed with a cover there, and some benches,” my father said. “Why don't y’all get in the car and I’ll run you up there.”
The man thought about it for a moment, and then he beckoned to his family. They climbed into the car. They had no luggage, only the clothes they were wearing.
Once they settled in, my father looked back over his shoulder and asked the children if Santa had found them yet. Three glum faces mutely gave him his answer.
“Well, I didn’t think so,” my father said, winking at my mother, “because when I saw Santa this morning, he told me that he was having trouble finding? all, and he asked me if he could leave your toys at my house. We'll just go get them before I take you to the bus stop.”
All at once, the three children's faces lit up, and they began to bounce around in the back seat, laughing and chattering.
When we got out of the car at our house, the three children ran through the front door and straight to the toys that were spread out under our Christmas tree. One of the girls spied Jill’s doll and immediately hugged it to her breast. I remember that the little boy grabbed Sharon’s ball. And the other girl picked up something of mine. All this happened a long time ago, but the memory of it remains clear. That was the Christmas when my sisters and I learned the joy of making others happy.
My mother noticed that the middle child was wearing a short-sleeved dress, so she gave the girl Jill’s only sweater to wear.
My father invited them to join us at our grandparents’ for Christmas dinner, but the parents refused. Even when we all tried to talk them into coming, they were firm in their decision.
Back in the car, on the way to Winborn, my father asked the man if he had money for bus fare.
His brother had sent tickets, the man said.
My father reached into his pocket and pulled out two dollars, which was all he had left until his next payday. He pressed the money into the man’s hand. The man tried to give it back, but my father insisted. “It’ll be late when you get to Birmingham, and these children will be hungry before then. Take it. I’ve been broke before, and I know what it’s like when you can’t feed your family.”
We left them there at the bus stop in Winborn. As we drove away, I watched out the window as long as I could, looking back at the little gihugging her new doll.
At a young and tender age, Patti Wilson was told by her doctor that she was an epileptic. Her father, Jim Wilson, is a morning jogger. One day she smiled through her braces and said, "Daddy what I'd really love to do is run with you every day, but I'm afraid I'll have a seizure."
Her father told her, "If you do, I know how to handle it, so let's start running!"
That's just what they did every day. It was a wonderful experience for them to share and there were no seizures at all while she was running. After a few weeks, she told her father, "Daddy, what I'd really love to do is break the world's long-distance running record for women."
Her father checked the Guiness Book of World Records and found that the farthest any woman had run was 80 miles. As a freshman in high school, Patti announced, "I'm going to run from Orange County up to San Francisco." (A distance of 400 miles.) "As a sophomore," she went on, "I'm going to run to Portland, Oregon." (Over 1500 miles.) "As a junior I'll run to St. Louis." (About 2000 miles) "As a senior I'll run to the White House." (More than 3000 miles away.)
In view of her handicap, Patti was as ambitious as she was enthusiastic, but she said she looked at the handicap of being an epileptic as simply "an inconvenience." She focused not on what she had lost, but on what she had left.
That year, she completed her run to San Francisco wearing a T-shirt that read, "I Love Epileptics." Her dad ran every mile at her side, and her mom, a nurse, followed in a motor home behind them in case anything went wrong.
In her sophomore year, Patti's classmates got behind her. They built a giant poster that read, "Run, Patti, Run!" (This has since become her motto and the title of a book she has written.) On her second marathon, en route to Portland, she fractured a bone in her foot. A doctor told her she had to stop her run. He said, "I've got to put a cast on your ankle so that you don't sustain permanent damage."
"Doc, you don't understand," she said. "This isn't just a whim of mine, it's a magnificent obsession! I'm not just doing it for me, I'm doing it to break the chains on the brains that limit so many others. Isn't there a way I can keep running?" He gave her one option. He could wrap it in adhesive instead of putting it in a cast. He warned her that it would be incredibly painful, and he told her, "It will blister." She told the doctor to wrap it up.
She finished the run to Portland, completing her last mile with the governor of Oregon. You may have seen the headlines: "Super Runner, Patti Wilson Ends Marathon For Epilepsy On Her 17th Birthday."
After four months of almost continuous running from West Coast to the East Coast, Patti arrived in Washington and shook the hand of the President of United States. She told him, "I wanted people to know that epileptics are normal human beings with normal lives."
I told this story at one of my seminars not long ago, and afterward a big teary-eyed man came up to me, stuck out his big meaty hand and said, "Mark, my name is Jim Wilson. You were talking about my daughter, Patti." Because of her noble efforts, he told me, enough money had been raised to open up 19 multi-million-dollar epileptic centers around the country.
If Patti Wilson can do so much with so little, what can you do to outperform yourself in a state of total wellness?