My first 75 years: the doors that opened and I entered
by Robert Ronald

Living is like traveling down a road crisscrossed with intersections and dividing into forks.  Where I am today was determined by the turns I made or did not make at those intersections and by the routes I chose to follow along the way.

Life is a corridor lined with doors.  There are the doors of opportunity, doors of trouble, doors of pleasure, doors of pain, doors that lead to victory and doors that lead to defeat.   Some doors have names and knobs on the outside.  We are free to open and enter or just pass by.  Other doors open only from the inside.  If they swing open as we pass by, we are free to enter if
we wish.  Sometimes doors open that we don’t wish to enter, but we are pulled inside by circumstances out of our control. In any case, we can never be sure of what will happen on the other side.  Whether or not going in is within our choice or within our control, what we do when we get there is.

Life is just a succession of such doors. You enter or just keep on going. Entering a door is always a risk. You never know for sure what awaits you beyond the door. Perhaps it will change your life. It’s your choice.

The map of my life is not a straight line. It is a zigzag of twists and turns as it follows me along the paths I took through the doors I entered.

The first door I had nothing to say about as I was thrust through the gateway of the birth canal into the arms of my wonderful family. It was a very propitious beginning.

The second door opened just as I was finishing the eighth grade in public school. I came home one day to find my mother working in the garden and she asked me “how would you like to go to the Jesuit boarding school in San Jose?” She had just been talking on the phone to Fr. Frank Saussotte who was on his way there to teach. He was a friend of my aunt Sister Carmelina in Port Townsend, WA. The adventure of leaving home and living at school was very appealing and I said yes right away.

Nearing graduation from high school there were several door open. The first was to enroll for college at Santa Clara University, which is what my family expected me to do. Then there was the possibility of going to some other college somewhere. At the same time one other door was beckoning: to enter the Jesuits and begin training for the priesthood. This was the scariest of all, because it was not a matter of what I would be doing for the next four years, but what I would be doing the rest of my life. And who knows where the road on the other side of that door would take me. That was the door I chose and sure enough it led me where I never expected to go, but I have never regretted that decision.

It was customary in those days for the young Jesuits in training who were finishing the mandatory study of philosophy to be assigned to spend the next three years teaching in a Jesuit school. For some there was the option of going onto special studies to obtain degrees in subjects that they would eventually teach in college. And every year one or two would be assigned to join the Jesuits working in the foreign missions. It was to pass through that door that I had volunteered myself, so I was not surprised to be selected for the mission in Taiwan. What lay ahead for me I had no idea. It was just for me a much anticipated adventure abroad to somewhere I had never been before.
Then just a year later, the door opened that I would never in a million years have willingly chosen to enter, but through which I was unceremoniously thrust. In the course of one week of pain and discomfort I became a seriously crippled victim of polio, destined to be confined to a wheelchair the rest of my life. Living with the permanent effects of polio is no fun and games, but neither is it a serious obstacle to living a full life. It is only an inconvenience that I have learned to get along with.

As I look back on my 49 years as a survivor of polio, I have no regrets or ill feelings toward it. In fact, I am filled with gratitude, because had I not had polio, none of the travels I have undertaken, the jobs I held, or any of the accomplishments I may have experienced would ever have happened. I would be a totally different person and not necessarily a better one.

There are four other doors of opportunity I entered which deserve mention here and one bad one which I could not prevent from sucking me in.

I returned to the United States to undergo rehabilitation after getting polio. I could have remained in the comfort and security of home, but I chose once again to cast my lot for a life of service in Taiwan. Then when the end of my Jesuit training finally arrived, the opportunity to study rehabilitation opened up and I grabbed it. Then there was the decision to accept the job offer at the Veterans Hospital and most recently the invitation to join the staff of the Ricci Institute.
In recent years most survivors of polio have begun to experience a decline in muscle power and episodes of pain and fatigue. This phenomenon is called the post polio syndrome and it knocked on my door and forced its way into my life about twenty years ago and has gradually eroded my strength and my ability to care for myself, so that today I need very much the assistance of a caregiver. Fortunately I have had very good ones who have enriched my lives with their cheerfulness and service.

So that’s the story of my life, a course of ups and downs. I continue to survive because I have managed to keep my feet on the ground while going up and my head in the clouds when going down.

Painting by Bendu