I wrote this speech last semester for a public speaking class. I think the challenge is relatively obvious:
Today I want to talk about silent battles. Some are small—when you’ve crawled into bed only to realize you forgot to turn the light off, when your hand won’t fit into the Pringles can, when you’re in the shower and realize that you’ve forgotten a towel. And some silent battles are big, like depression, loneliness, fear
I want to tell you a story about the struggles of a man that I know well. When this man was young, he had everything going for him. He was extremely intelligent; he was funny; he was attractive and well-liked. He was educated—on his way to a doctorate degree. He married a beautiful woman and had two beautiful children. Put simply, he had a charming life and what looked like a successful future ahead of him. But then he was in a car accident in which he fractured his neck. In the course of treatment, he was put on powerful narcotics—pain medication—and he became addicted.
His life spiraled out of control—drugs became his first priority. For fifteen years, he was in and out of prison for various drug-related crimes (mostly forging doctors’ signatures). He lost his job, his marriage deteriorated, his relationship with his children crumbled. His bright future was suddenly dark.
Now he is 62-years-old and he can’t get a real job regardless of his education, because of his criminal past. But he works as a janitor of sorts, at the reduced-rent dormitory in which he lives. He doesn’t have a driver’s license. He spends his days reading the news, walking to and from the grocery store, and drinking coffee at the Starbucks on the corner, where all the baristas know him by name and give him free coffee.
But he is five years clean. And throughout each day of his simple life, this man fights a silent and heavy battle. A drug addiction is not something you are miraculously ‘cured’ of—overcoming addiction is a decision made, every morning, to continue fighting. He fights the battle with each cup of coffee that he buys, with each walk to the store, with each day that he feels regret for losing his family, each day that he yearns for a future that he never had. Each day that he commits to this effort, he continues to triumph at one of the most difficult fights that exists. From the outside his life may looks simple, sad even; he may not have money, awards, a thrilling career or a thriving social life, but he has accomplished overcoming an addiction—something so difficult, so complex and demanding that he, at the least, deserves respect.
This man is not alone. Our world is full of people fighting silent battles. The small, trivial battles can be tough, like remembering to take the trashcan to the road on Tuesday mornings or those tricky password requirements that want a number, a symbol AND a capital letter. And the big battles—like the addiction, the depression, and the other powerful, voiceless enemies—those can be heartbreaking. These struggles are often invisible and tragic. But each morning, the fighters wake up and decide that they will make it, again, through the day. Awards aren’t given to people like the man in my story. Their successes are not marked by accolades or honors. But their perseverance, their resiliency, their strength in the face of overwhelming obstacles deserve—just like the man in my story—to be recognized.
As Mary Anne Radmacher once said, ‘Courage doesn’t always roar.’ I think that perhaps silent courage is the most courageous of all. To continue fighting when the world hasn’t a clue, to maintain strength when you have no army behind you and no paradise ahead—that is bravery. And that is the courage with which the man in the story and all others like him fight.
Today I want to give my utmost respect to those fighting internal battles. To the man in the story, to others like him, to any one of you that may be struggling with difficult, silent enemies. I want to say: I admire your strength; I appreciate the endurance that it takes to face your voiceless demons; and I value the silent courage that you exude every single day. And I want to remind each of you to search for compassion when you see the homeless man on the corner of 24th, when you encounter a rude clerk at the coffee shop, and each time you meet someone new. They may be struggling, fighting a silent battle, and, just like you, they are doing the best that they know how to do.