With every war fatality or injury from Afghanistan, we North Carolinians shed more tears than other Americans. Why? Because our state, with Fort Bragg, Cherry Point, Camp Lejeune and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, is home to more military personnel than most others.
So it was with special compassion that I learned of local hero Nathan Rimpf, Army Ranger from Raleigh’s Leesville High School, who lost both legs as he stepped on a homemade bomb while leading his platoon in Anbar Province. Proud of his heroism, Nathan’s sister Bridget began a campaign to honor him while he’s been recuperating in Walter Reed Hospital. Along with her mother and a boost from Facebook she began selling wristbands for $5 each to fund the huge family costs not covered by insurance. So far, 2000 bands have been sold and seen globally. Governor Rick Perry wears one and Olympic runner Carl Lewis does also. Wristbands for Nathan can now be seen at a Colorado National Park, a Kenny Chesney concert outside Washington, and on razor wire in Zabul Province, Afghanistan.
There’s a wonderful change afoot here: from compassion to a new admiration for those who are now called “differently abled” rather than “disabled.” The recent London Paralympics helped this change as the world witnessed the incredible physical feats accomplished by these special athletes. Are these same witnesses seeing the power of the spiritual qualities that base these accomplishments? Qualities like courage, grace and persistence, without which no physical achievement is possible? Is it possible that people are beginning to see others through a spiritual lense more than a physical, material one?
Certainly tremendous progress has been made in the physical training and rehab of those who’ve lost limbs and other faculties. Discoveries are made every day about the ability of the body to resuscitate itself in unexpected ways: the African spiny mouse, a mammal, grows his skin back after predator attacks; lizards, salamanders, crustaceans and arthropods regularly replace their body parts. We know the lobster can grow another claw if one is lost. Is all this amazing physical regeneration the harbinger of exciting discoveries for the human body?
Interestingly, these hopes are pinned onto making matter better, not on mind or spirit. We judge progress only by physical observation. Or do we? It is only through spiritual sense, not physical measurements, that people can see manhood and womanhood grow into greatness through qualities like compassion, resilience and leadership. These qualities are studied and taught in faith based communities and in other inspired sharing. Through prayerful searching to express more of these qualities, many have seen wonderful recovery of the use of severed or partly severed fingers or toes. My sister is one of them.
Legs cannot bestow these qualities, no matter how many of them we have. But lost legs may lead to new kinds of heroism found and celebrated in each one’s essential, spiritual identity.