By Dan Inloes
August 3, 2007
Too often in life, we become so accustomed to the abundance of our culture that we take for granted that which so many others lack. A trip to the grocery store, a minor inconvenience sandwiched between dance class and soccer practice for most of us, would be a life-changing experience to someone living in one of the many poverty-stricken areas of the world. When I learned that my high school and college friend, Craig Oster, had been struggling with ALS for over a decade, my first instinct was to be thankful for my own blessings. When I read his inspirational tale of transformation and determination, I found something even more precious: the ability to view a severe personal setback as an opportunity for personal growth.
The last time I saw Craig, he was a vibrant philosophy student in Ann Arbor, passionate about the writings of William James. I can see him, bearded and clad in leather, pulling up to my house on his motorcycle. But while that physical image of Craig has vanished, the vibrancy of the man’s spirit lives and reverberates even louder through his efforts to beat back the physical effects of ALS. His heroic workouts in the gym give hope to anyone trying to “rage against the dying of the (physical) light;” his ability to transform the affliction into a reviewing of himself and the significance of his life is a testament to his courage and brilliance. Craig has always exuded compassion and patience; his battle with ALS has allowed him to turn those personality traits inward and, in a strange way, enrich his life.
As a teacher and coach, I am always seeking points of inspiration for my upper-middle-class students and athletes here in suburban Detroit. But all the tales of personal courage and perseverance seem to pale when I read about Craig’s journey. The light that shines from his narrative is quite stunning when one considers the physical deterioration he has suffered. His ongoing optimism and faith in his ultimate success make the small setbacks most of us experience seem trivial and easily overcome. When I teach Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird to my students, I often emphasize Atticus Finch’s definition of courage: “…when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” Craig’s struggle echoes that determination, but goes further in refusing to admit defeat. His unshakable belief in his own recovery leaves me certain that he will defeat the disease. Moreover, he already has.