You may not ever recognize their names, but I hope you understand their lessons.
To my knowledge, I have never had the opportunity to spend time with anyone with autism, until I had the chance to do so with Wilt and the Animals For Life Foundation last week. As I looked forward to working with Dr. Temple Grandin, I say with confidence that I was flat out nervous.
And for good reason. I was about to spend a morning, one-to-one, with world-renowned animal handling pioneer and subject of a movie, Dr. Temple Grandin. A professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University, and a specialist in livestock handling and animal facility design. In fact, half of the cattle in the United States and Canada are handled in facilities designed by Grandin, and she has offered animal welfare consultation to companies such as McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King.
But, Grandin’s remarkable achievements are underscored by an amazing success story. She was born a severely autistic child, and by the age of two she could not speak. Years of speech therapy helped her to overcome her disabilities, and encouragement from a high school teacher led her to pursue a career in animal science.
That lead her to the crossing of my tiny path.
I walk a fine line in disclosing the lessons and releasing the moments.
As is life. Remember that.
I had a time taking notes, for as much as Dr. Grandin told me during breakfast and in my little Ford Escape. In fact, somewhere on I-270 around Columbus, Ohio she scolded me for texting and driving. Fair enough. Her lessons were brief and pointed.
Nonetheless, I share a few brief lessons from Dr. Grandin's raw, weathered hands and mind.
Today, we are a population completely away from anything practical.
We don't understand how our food reaches our table. In school we have no sewing. No woodworking. No home economics. We are masters of No Trade. We have no idea how to balance a budget or mend clothing or even console our children. We cannot coach our own children through life because we don't have a really good grasp at what is going on. That is troublesome. We spend our money on things that only serve ourselves: clothing, appearances, entertainment. How do those things improve life for the next generation? How selfish are we?
We can not let bad become normal.
This is everywhere. The way we raise our livestock. The way we present ourselves in public. The way we speak to one another. The way we dress our daughters and sons.
We have become lazy - LAZY - and that is not good. The bad way of addressing many things has become the normal. When we let the bad replace normal, we're all in a really poor place.
There is no worse feeling than visiting your childhood home and finding that your "kite flying field" has become a subdivision.
Remember it. The house. The field. How the sky looks just before sunset. And even better, just before sunrise. Visit home. Even if it changes. Remember the land. The slope of the hill. That is the landscape of your life; the very first scene of your story.
Your mind. Your body. Dr. Grandin asked me what sports I participated in to keep my body active. Nothing like telling this lady that I've not played sports since high school...Stay active.
Never quit challenging yourself.
The best days of Dr. Grandin's career have not been staring into the open skies of the west or even the board rooms of Washington, DC. Her most rewarding days have been spent onsite in the trailers "with the guys" trying to determine how to construct an animal handling project. A few of her favorite moments now are flying into/out of the Denver airport and visualizing how she would utilize the equipment on the site. Find a better way to do things.
Don't question your abilities.
Dr. Grandin recalled being told by a counselor that her calling was to work in animal behavior. "Of all the things," she laughed, "animal behavior. I remember being told that. Being told that I would go into animal behavior. But I worked with it."
And the greatest thing Dr. Grandin taught me:
No one cares about your circumstances.
Blaze your own damn trail.