Fourteen Steps

Fourteen Steps

From A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Fourteen Steps

Adversity introduces a man to himself.


They say a cat has nine lives, and I am inclined to think that possible since I am now living my third life and I’m not even a cat.

My first life began on a clear, cold day in November, 1904, when I arrived as the sixth of eight children of a farming family. My father died when I was 15, and we had a hard struggle to make a living. Mother stayed home and cooked the potatoes and beans and cornbread and greens, while the rest of us worked for whatever we could get—a small amount at best.

As the children grew up, they married, leaving only one sister and myself to support and care for Mother, who became paralyzed in her last years and died while still in her 60s. My sister married soon after, and I followed her example within the year.

This was when I began to enjoy my first life. I was very happy, in excellent health, and quite a good athlete. My wife and I became the parents of two lovely girls. I had a good job in San Jose and a beautiful home up the peninsula in San Carlos.

Life was a pleasant dream.

Then the dream ended and became one of those horrible nightmares that cause you to wake in a cold sweat in the middle of the night. I became afflicted with a slowly progressive disease of the motor nerves, affecting first my right arm and leg, and then my other side.

Thus began my second life. . . .

In spite of my disease I still drove to and from work each day, with the aid of special equipment installed in my car. And I managed to keep my health and optimism, to a degree, because of 14 steps.

Crazy? Not at all.

Our home was a split-level affair with 14 steps leading up from the garage to the kitchen door. Those steps were a gauge of life. They were my yardstick, my challenge to continue living. I felt that if the day arrived when I was unable to lift one foot up one step and then drag the other painfully after it—repeating the process 14 times until, utterly spent, I would be through—I could then admit defeat and lie down and die.

So I kept on working, kept on climbing those steps. And time passed. The girls went to college and were happily married, and my wife and I were alone in our beautiful home with the 14 steps.

You might think that here walked a man of courage and strength. Not so. Here hobbled a bitterly disillusioned cripple, a man who held on to his sanity and his wife and his home and his job because of 14 miserable steps leading up to the back door from his garage.

As I dragged one foot after another up those steps— slowly, painfully, often stopping to rest—I would sometimes let my thoughts wander back to the years when I was playing ball, golfing, working out at the gym, hiking, swimming, running, jumping. And now I could barely manage to climb feebly up a set of steps.

As I became older, I became more disillusioned and frustrated. I’m sure that my wife and friends had some unhappy times when I chose to expound to them my philosophy of life. I believed that in this whole world I alone had been chosen to suffer. I had carried my cross now for nine years and probably would bear it for as long as I could climb those 14 steps.

I chose to ignore the comforting words from 1 Cor. 15:52: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye . . . we shall be changed.” And so it was that I lived my first and second lives here on earth.

Then on a dark night in August, 1971, I began my third life. I had no idea when I left home that morning that so dramatic a change was to occur. I knew only that it had been rougher than usual even getting down the steps that morning. I dreaded the thought of having to climb them when I arrived home.

It was raining when I started home that night; gusty winds and slashing rain beat down on the car as I drove slowly down one of the less-traveled roads. Suddenly the steering wheel jerked in my hands and the car swerved violently to the right. In the same instant I heard the dreaded bang of a blowout. I fought the car to a stop on the rain-slick shoulder of the road and sat there as the enormity of the situation swept over me. It was impossible for me to change that tire! Utterly impossible!

A thought that a passing motorist might stop was dismissed at once. Why should anyone? I knew I wouldn’t! Then I remembered that a short distance up a little side road was a house. I started the engine and thumped slowly along, keeping well over on the shoulder until I came to the dirt road, where I turned in—thankfully. Lighted windows welcomed me to the house and I pulled into the driveway and honked the horn.

The door opened and a little girl stood there, peering at me. I rolled down the window and called out that I had a flat and needed someone to change it for me because I had a crutch and couldn’t do it myself.

She went into the house and a moment later came out bundled in raincoat and hat, followed by a man who called a cheerful greeting.

I sat there comfortable and dry, and felt a bit sorry for the man and the little girl working so hard in the storm. Well, I would pay them for it. The rain seemed to be slackening a bit now, and I rolled down the window all the way to watch. It seemed to me that they were awfully slow and I was beginning to become impatient. I heard the clank of metal from the back of the car and the little girl’s voice came clearly to me. “Here’s the jack-handle, Grandpa.” She was answered by the murmur of the man’s lower voice and the slow tilting of the car as it was jacked up.

There followed a long interval of noises, jolts and low conversation from the back of the car, but finally it was done. I felt the car bump as the jack was removed, and I heard the slam of the trunk lid, and then they were standing at my car window.

He was an old man, stooped and frail-looking under his slicker. The little girl was about eight or 10, I judged, with a merry face and a wide smile as she looked up at me.

He said, “This is a bad night for car trouble, but you’re all set now.”

“Thanks,” I said, “thanks. How much do I owe you?”

He shook his head. “Nothing. Cynthia told me you were a cripple—on crutches. Glad to be of help. I know you’d do the same for me. There’s no charge, friend.”

I held out a five-dollar bill. “No! I like to pay my way.”

He made no effort to take it and the little girl stepped closer to the window and said quietly, “Grandpa can’t see it.”

In the next few frozen seconds the shame and horror of that moment penetrated, and I was sick with an intensity I had never felt before. A blind man and a child! Fumbling, feeling with cold, wet fingers for bolts and tools in the dark—a darkness that for him would probably never end until death.

They changed a tire for me—changed it in the rain and wind, with me sitting in snug comfort in the car with my crutch. My handicap. I don’t remember how long I sat there after they said good night and left me, but it was long enough for me to search deep within myself and find some disturbing traits.

I realized that I was filled to overflowing with self-pity, selfishness, indifference to the needs of others and thoughtlessness.

I sat there and said a prayer. In humility I prayed for strength, for a greater understanding, for keener awareness of my shortcomings and for faith to continue asking in daily prayer for spiritual help to overcome them.

I prayed for blessings upon the blind man and his granddaughter. Finally I drove away, shaken in mind, humbled in spirit.

“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 7:12.)

To me now, months later, this scriptural admonition is more than just a passage in the Bible. It is a way of life, one that I am trying to follow. It isn’t always easy. Sometimes it is frustrating, sometimes expensive in both time and money, but the value is there.

I am trying now not only to climb 14 steps each day, but in my small way to help others. Someday, perhaps, I will change a tire for a blind man in a car—someone as blind as I had been.

Hal Manw aring

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