One of the most remarkable people I have ever met was Benjamin Rossow. Ben was one of Rachel’s kids (Forget Yourself below) and of all her children perhaps the most challenged. Born without a brain, all he had was the cerebral cortex – a brain stem – to guide his actions.
The potential quality of Ben’s life and the possibilities of his birth were judged so limited, the men of medicine who brought him into the world concluded there was no point to his life. A boy without a brain would never run with a football, grow up to be a doctor or a lawyer, or contribute in any meaningful way. He would never walk or talk or have any hope of sustaining himself. Besides, they said, it was unlikely he would live more than year under the best of circumstances. They decided the best thing to do was to just let him go.
They never asked Ben, of course, and if they had he could not have answered. But fortunately, Rachel answered for him and took him home to be part of her remarkable family.
When I met Ben a dozen years later, I saw him respond in ways doctors said would not be possible when he was born and still cannot explain. Benjamin tracked his mother with his eyes, responded to her embrace, and laughed when she laughed. He not only knew who she was, he knew where she was all the time
More than that, I came to understand Ben was a pure person. He knew nothing of prejudice, never learned to hate, and never even dreamed of harming another person. All he knew was love – the love he was given and the love he gave – and that love enabled the child who it was said would never make a difference to change the Baby Doe laws in three states.
Most of us live with doubts that inhibit our actions. Our fears often create failure and a list of unrealized possibilities filed under what-might-have-been. Benjamin, on the other hand, never knew doubt and had no fear. As a result, while most of us use only a fraction of our potential he was performing at least at l50 percent of what was said to be his capacity.
Simply stated, the basic principle of evolution is that what is used develops. Birds fly not because they have wings; they have wings because they fly. The overarching lesson of Ben’s life is that it is not our impossibilities that fill us with despair, but rather the possibilities we have failed to actualize. The greatest defeat we can suffer is the distance between what we are and what we can be.