Midlife Moments'

Midlifer of the Week

  Suzanne Rogers

She's Freer than Most of Us

by Mike Bellah

  "I think I've never seen anything that has happened to me as a limitation. I think of it as a challenge," says Suzanne Rogers. "I don't feel I am limited." The words are not what I expect to hear from this wheelchair-bound grandmother in her 50s. But the contagious enthusiasm in her voice, the childlike honesty in her grin and the can-do flash in her eyes convince me she means what she says. Suzanne Rogers is living proof that midlife limitations do not have to limit the human spirit.

See limitations as challenges.

As I sit with Rogers at her home overlooking the Palo Duro Canyon, I ask her how we midlifers can deal with limitations like lost jobs, abilities and relationships that sometime mark our middle years. Her first piece of advice is adamant: "Somehow limitations is a kind of negative-feeling thing and a challenge is something you can do; It's almost like 'I dare you.'"

Don't dwell on the used-tos.

As a young woman, Rogers taught kindergarten, tutored piano students, played the church organ, kept books for husband Gene's service station and helped raise three beautiful girls (Tracey, Gena and Shelley). In 1970 she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Seven years later she began having difficulty walking and using her left hand, and by the early '80s the illness had confined her to a wheel chair (she says the chair is her friend not her enemy). "I'm not in denial," Rogers tells me. "I know I don't play the piano very well anymore. but I don't dwell on those used-tos. That's kind of a waste of time."

Substitute for lost abilities.

How does she get her focus off of lost abilities? "I've substituted things that are just as meaningful to me," says Rogers. "Young people mean a lot to me; I work a lot with college people. And grandkids are wonderful."

Rogers is modest. Her fame in her "substitute" activities is what led me to her.

She is the author of "Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me," a practical handbook for those newly diagnosed with M. S. In addition, she serves on the board of Second Chance Foundation and is Executive Director of Winners' Circle Equitherapy, an activity that allows her to use her passion for horseback riding to help the physically challenged. Rogers is also active with her adult daughters and five grandchildren. In 1992, she gained national recognition as M. S. Mother of the Year.

Live one day at a time.

Rogers does not dwell on the used-tos of the past; nor does she focus on the fears of the future. "The future can be really scary," she says. "I could dream up all sorts of bad things. I definitely live in the present, and my present is very good. Today, I'm sure I can make it today. And tomorrow I can do tomorrow."

 Freedom comes from the spirit.

Rogers' final point is not something she offers as advice, but something those who visit with her notice immediately. "I feel very free," she tells me. And indeed she is; she is not a captive of her limitations. It is not only that this "disabled" person is able to do so much for herself; it is her freedom of spirit that sets Rogers apart.

I leave feeling that the real limitations in life are not caused by captors of the body like M. S., but limitations of the spirit like fear, self-pity and bitterness. Suzanne Rogers has learned to break these chains. She is freer than most of us.

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