Deciding To Get Better Not Bitter.
The Legacy and the Life of Nate Waters (Rest In Peace My Friend)
A few years ago my daughter Havana (who was four or five at the time) innocently asked loudly, “Why is man sitting next to us in a wheel chair? She then asked, “Dad, why can’t he walk?”
I was initially embarrassed and I rushed to correct the behavior by escorting her to the bathroom to share with her that it is not appropriate to say things like that in a public restaurant or really anywhere. After making sure that the message was heard loud and clear we returned to our seats. And there I was greeted not by an angry face, but by a smile. I was greeted by the contagious smile of the 27 year-old Nate Waters, the man in the wheelchair.
Nate went on the explain that he had lost the use of his legs do to domestic violence, but that he was not bitter. He went on to explain that he just wanted to make the lives of others better and that he wanted to own his own business and to become an investment banker.
I almost began weeping at the restaurant. My wife was with me so I put on my “man face” and fought back any tears using humor, quick wit and various conversation ninja moves. God has blessed me with to make tough situations easier socially on everyone.
Nate said, “Hey we should get together some time.” So I gave Nate a business card. Initially I was tempted to do what most people do and do nothing. I was tempted to do what I usually do and just let it slip into that category of “we should get together sometime.” That category reserved for the people you’ve met at church for the 8th time, whose name you cannot remember, and who we’ve spoken, “we should get together sometime” for the 8th time. However, with Nate I felt convicted. I felt as God himself was telling me, “Get over there and spend some time with this man, you may actually learn something.”
So I called Nate and arranged a time to visit. When I asked him where he lived he stated, “Oh I live at the nursing home off of 31st & Memorial.”
I clarified, “So you live at the nursing home?”
He assured me that he did live in the nursing home. He didn’t confirm his living arrangements angrily, however if he did respond that way looking back at it, I could have understood why.
When I arrived at the home I quickly realized that he was the only person under the age of 70 living at this place. He was the only person not severely mentally handicapped living at this place. As I walked down the halls to find his room, the smells of sterilization mixed with vomit, and feces almost overwhelmed me.
When I arrived at his room, I couldn’t believe it. Here was a twenty-something year-old man living by himself at the nursing home. Where was his mom? Where was his Dad? Where was anybody? Where was God in this? How did he get here?
I was almost too overwhelmed by questions to notice the photos of him with Boone Pickens, Colin Powell, Rudy Giuliani and other notable successful and Republican leaders. Then another slew of questions hit me. How did he know Colin Powell? How did he meet Boone Pickens? What was going on here?
After spending some time sitting with him I discovered this:
He grew up in the projects of Chicago.
He moved to Tulsa with his mother as a teenager to escape Chicago’s mean streets.
His mother started dating a man.
This man attempted to rape Nate’s sister.
Nate tried to stop his mother’s boyfriend from raping his sister.
His mother’s boyfriend broke his spine while beating the hell out of Nate.
Nate’s mother left Nate in a pile on the floor for 2 days covering him with newspapers because he had lost control of his bowels.
All day for 2 days his mother walked past him on the floor and just left him there.
Nate cried for help and tried not to suffocate by holding his head up from the carpet where he laid face down.
No one came to help Nate.
Nate cried out for help even more, desperately trying to breathe. He rubbed all of the follicles off of his chin while attempting to keep his head up and scraping his face against the carpet.
His sister eventually called the police on day two.
Nate was taken to a hospital.
He stayed in that hospital with a broken spine.
His own mother would not file charges against her boyfriend.
As her son laid in the hospital paralyzed from the waist down his mother decided that his would be a perfect time to abandon him.
Nate was moved to a nursing home where he would live for the next 10 YEARS BY HIMSELF while the woman who gave birth to him chose to SHACK UP WITH THE MAN WHO BROKE HIS SPINE.
From Nate’s nursing home, he explained to me that he had two choices. “I could get bitter or I could get better” he said.
He then reached out to his nurses telling them that he wanted to attend college and graduate.
He continued telling anyone in the hospital he would listen of his goals.
He was then abused by his nurses and mistreated.
Eventually some nurses with souls were assigned to help him.
He again told them of his goals of attending and graduating from college.
Boone Pickens heard of his story and bought him a wheelchair to help him get from point A to point B.
He then enrolled in TCC and because he couldn’t write things down he learned to memorize information shared by his professors.
Nate then graduated from college.
He then told his nurses and his teachers he didn’t want a handout. He didn’t want to die in a nursing home. He wanted to earn a job.
He then took a city bus to downtown Tulsa with resumes he had his nurse place in his backpack because he couldn’t use his own hands to stuff his own backpack.
He then drove around downtown Tulsa in his wheelchair from building to building. He did this for 3 months until eventually an executive working at Williams heard him out.
He hired Nate. Nate now had a college degree and a job.
Then on this very day as I sat in his room with him trying not to cry as he taught me the importance of “Deciding to get better and not bitter” through his actions and not his words he told me of his dreams to be a motivational speaker like myself so that he could “teach the world the importance of staying positive through adversity.” I was overwhelmed. This conversation. This man. This nursing home. It was all TOO MUCH.
So Vanessa and I purchased him a computer and a helped him build a speaking website. I then spent more time with him encouraging him that he could actually become a speaker if he so desired. He had already done so much.
Last time I spoke in depth with Nate he was catching a flight to New Orleans to speak to an audience about “the importance of staying positive.”
Today I heard via a text message from Jon Conneely that my mentor is dead.
Nate Waters died today but his message will live on with me forever. “Don’t get bitter. Get better.”
P.S. I wish I was a better writer because you deserve more.