By Tiffany A. Potter
Thus far, in our months together, I have not officially explained what I do in my professional life and only alluded to it, but I will tell you now. I own my own consulting firm. I created it five years ago when I set out to be an agent for change. I talk to students in their classrooms and I teach employees of all industries that interface with the public on how to assist, support and communicate with individuals who live with unseen challenges (cognitive and developmental disabilities to get technical) in the best way.
Aside from my own business, often I am hired to work on a contract basis and am recruited to sit on boards. Currently, I am the vice-chair of the Disability Advisory Commission for the City of Fresno. In addition, the State of California recognizes me as a disability subject matter expert in matters regarding people with disabilities during disasters (which is a fancy way of saying that I am a special adviser to the State).
In essence, I go from contract to contract for agencies and companies that find my knowledge of the disability world invaluable. I work every day to make the perceptions of people with disabilities in our world more positive and our world a more inclusive place for every single one of us, and I love every minute of it.
Through one of my most recent contracts, I was asked to go out to the rural areas of our county and educate the communities on a new program being offered through a local nonprofit. This particular day, I was in Sanger at a free food distribution that is available for people who find themselves in the difficult situation of not having enough money to buy food. They line up as early as 6 a.m. and wait for hours in hopes that they are one of the lucky ones to receive this beautiful gift that might bridge the gap between paychecks to get them through.
My routine was to set up at the park shelter where the distribution occurs (outside and in the freezing cold mind you), hanging my sign and laying out the brochures prior to walking the line and talking with those waiting. It was during this time that a gentleman came over to help with my sign as it’s practically bigger than me and a bit cumbersome for me to manage. He was kind, in his mid-50s, an Iraqi veteran and struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder from his time serving his country that makes working a “regular” job near impossible. He was educated, eloquent, compassionate and wanted nothing more than a steady paycheck to provide for the kids he so proudly told me about. I was honored to be in his company.
He made the sharing of my life easy when he would ask me questions, as he was so open with his, and I found myself exchanging energy with someone who surprised me in the best sense of the word. I went to do my job that morning and instead, as it often happens, I learned more from him than he could have ever learned from me.
Our conversation went on for a good few minutes. He asked me about my disability, my college education and seemed particularly interested in my life experiences that have been trying and complicated, painful and joyous, as he shared his struggles since returning home from the war. I’ve always believed that my disability brings people to me and opens the door for deeper conversations with perfect strangers because through me they see a bit of a kindred spirit in suffering, and I am okay with that. It was at the end of our talk, as he began to walk away and take his place back in line, that he turned back to me and said, “I would be honored to fight in a foxhole with you.”
It has only been since that brief interaction that I have learned that his parting remark to me was the highest compliment that anyone can ever receive as it is the highest and best compliment that military men and women give each other. His compliment said nothing about who I am on the outside, nothing about the car I drive or the labels I wear, nothing about how much money I have or anything else that we assume our consumerist world finds value in because the big corporations invest millions to have us believe it so.
No, it said nothing about the armor I put on to march out into the world with each day in the hopes that it will impress others and prove my value and worth. Instead, it said everything about what we all should find as most valuable, what we should all aspire to become. Someone that others would be proud to fight in a foxhole with: honor, bravery, tenacity, resiliency, dedication to a mission even when it’s not fun, intestinal fortitude, courage in the face of fear, kindness, compassion for your fellow comrades and a fighting spirit that will make the enemy (life) retreat in fear because you are so much more powerful than it.
He gave me a gift that day that I have carried with me and thought about each day since. And in the moments when I have found myself angry or impatient, fearful of the future or annoyed by people in my life (hey, I never claimed to be perfect), I consider if I would be proud to be fighting in a foxhole next to someone with my current attitude. Moreover, if I’m being honest with myself in that moment, I make a concerted effort to shift my energy and my current state. It’s amazing how one interaction with a complete stranger can make you a better person.
So, my dear ones, the question of the day is this, would you be proud to be in a foxhole with someone like yourself ? Would someone be proud to fight in a foxhole with your child? Do you exude confidence and compassion? Do you look life straight in the eye and stand up to it instead of retreat in fear? Are you selfless and strive to always do the right thing regardless of the shit that life throws at you? Do you show up even when the fighting rages on versus hiding under a sizable rock and blaming the world, God, the Universe, for your problems? Do you embrace the present moment, your current reality, and commit to not becoming jaded and bitter?
Some people think that these virtues are entrenched in religion or your political stance, but let me reassure you, there is nothing organized about my spiritual beliefs and I have little use for the current state of our politics. No, my loves, these characteristics only have everything to do with remembering that we are all each other’s to protect and fight for. No one better than the other, no one more powerful or “right,” because you see, in the foxhole we’re all fighting the same proverbial battle.
Tiffany is an entrepreneur, inspirational speaker and change agent. Find her at www. TiffanysTake.com.