This past weekend, I met Laura Miravete, a woman who was born with muscular dystrophy. She is now 70 years old and has not only lived a full, self-sufficient life but has surpassed the level of achievement that seems possible for someone in her position. She keeps her home in spotless condition, has an impressive vegetable garden, is a celebrated artist, and has contributed research to a doctoral thesis for a student at Harvard University. She also writes her own poetry and short stories…all with one hand! This woman is so prolific and inspiring that the mayor of her town (La Fresneda) named a plaza after her.
Laura’s right arm and leg do not move in a normal fashion. When she walks she drags her right leg along behind her and her right arm works only about twenty percent of the time—the rest of the time it spasms and shakes. She often keeps her right arm behind her back so that it doesn’t distract her.
I spent the past weekend with Laura and felt inspired by her positive attitude, willfulness to achieve, and her ability to adapt and go with the flow. Here are 6 insights I gained from my weekend with Laura:
- Be creative. If it doesn’t exist, Laura invents it herself. While in her home she showed me some of the cleaning tools she has created out of socks, wooden sticks, paper plates, and kitchen rags (among other household supplies). Laura lives in a very small town called La Fresneda in Spain. It has 501 habitants and only one local convince store–many of the modern day cleaning tools that we take for granted aren’t accessible to her. But that doesn’t stop her from making them herself, finding ways to stay organized, and from surrounding herself with a beautiful, harmonious environment.
- Create a sense of community. When I walked down the street with Laura everyone, and I literally mean everyone, would stop and say hello to her. I felt like I was with a famous person! This is because Laura invests notable time and effort to be kind to everyone that she encounters and to create a loving sense of community. The day I arrived to visit Laura, her brother, whom she lives with, had a stroke and went to the hospital in Barcelona (three hours away by car). Laura is used to being by his side and I asked her if she would be ok with him gone. She explained that she would be fine because the whole town was her family. How many of us don’t even know our next door neighbors? Laura’s existence proves that in times of joy and times of need it’s great to have friends close by and to feel a sense of community.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. We’ve all heard this one before, but I know that I can certainly use the reminder daily (perhaps even hourly). As I mentioned earlier, Laura’s right leg doesn’t move very well and she has to drag it along as she walks. When we arrived to Laura’s home I was surprised that she lived in a three-story building with lots of stairs and no elevator. I offered to help her as she went up the first flight of stairs and she laughed, “Oh, you want to help me because you see that my silly leg is acting up again. Not to worry, when I get to the fifth stair the height of the steps shorten and it’s easier for me to move more quickly.” Laura could get to those stairs everyday complaining and feeling awful that it takes her so long, but instead she looks at it as a game—“how fast can I get to the fifth stair?” If she is having a slow day she practices patience. Laura doesn’t allow the little bumps in the path stop her from enjoying life.
- Turn mistakes into blessings. Laura is a prolific painter (see one of her paintings to the right), and when she paints her twitching arm can often disrupt her painting process. However, instead of worrying about it or letting it stop her she uses it to her benefit. Laura jokes about how some of the strokes in her paintings are gifted by her twitching and shaking. She explains, “I use my disadvantage to my advantage. If I twitch a lot then I know that the painting needs to have a ‘windy-day effect.’ And if you look at my work you will notice that sunset skies are my specialty. This is a direct result of my shaking, it helps me get a unique brush stroke.” Through her painting process she has learned that we can’t control everything and need to go with the flow–sometimes our curses are our blessings.
- Don’t allow boredom to exist. When Laura was young she would get bored because she wasn’t allowed to go to the regular school with the other children. So instead of feeling bad about it she started training her mind and playing games to keep herself active. This is a practice she has carried with her throughout her entire life. When she was in her thirties she didn’t frequent the church as much because she wanted to spend more time outside painting and writing. People from the town got worried, “Laura, what is happening to you, do you not like the church? Why haven’t you been coming lately?” And she would reply, “You think I don’t like the church? Why I love the church so much that I’ve counted all of the stones of the entire building. Do you know how many stones it has?” (She really has counted all of them.) Also, the day I left La Fresneda I walked up to her home to say goodbye and Laura bid me adieu by saying, “So next time you come to La Fresneda I will look for your license plate number…”, she had memorized my license plate number in a matter of seconds the day before. I’m not saying that we should all go around counting bricks on churches and memorizing license plate numbers, but I am impressed by the way Laura seeks out new information, plays games with herself to keep her mind active, and doesn’t spend a moment feeling bored.
- Put your mind to anything and everything—you will succeed. The overall sense that I took away from spending time with Laura was that you can do anything you put your mind to, nothing has to be an obstacle. Also, don’t limit yourself to specializing in one thing; explore all of your passions. With a positive, curious attitude the world is yours to embrace and enjoy. Laura truly embodies what can happen if we build our inner strength and use it to our advantage.
(A guest blog post by Tara Rose Gladstone.)