Wednesday, April 4, 2012


While I was at the Bellingen Festival one of the audience asked a panel member, writer Arnold Zable, what he thought was the difference  between an ordinary person and an extraordinary one.

'How you look at them,' he said.

Patrick Henry Hughes has been blind and crippled since birth. He gets around in a wheelchair.

In 2006, while a student at the university of Louisville he decided to join the Louisville Marching Band, playing trumpet. He couldn't play and use his wheelchair at the same time so his father, Patrick John Hughes, pushed him through the marching routines. 

photograph: Jaceymon05

Patrick Henry achieved national celebrity because of this, though it’s clear his musical ability is remarkable on its own.

He was subsequently invited to play piano and sing in musical performances throughout the country, including two performances at the Grand Ole Opry, and he played solo trumpet on stage in performance with the Louisville Orchestra.

He has since graduated from Louisville magna cum laude 

According to Patrick, God kept from him his ability walk and to see but compensated by giving him the talent to play piano and trumpet. He remains unfazed by what many of us would consider insurmountable obstacles.

"I'm the kind of person that's always going to fight till I win," he has said. "That's my main objective. I'm gonna fight till I win."

Patrick Henry puts the lie to any of us who gets disheartened by failure or setbacks. He is clearly extraordinary.

But I imagine that if we saw his father Patrick John at his workplace, we might not see him as extraordinary. He looks like your average Joe, even though he clearly isn't. It is no easy thing to navigate a wheelchair across the thick grass of a football field, in formation, at top speed. Not easy, either, to work at a shipping company and get by with four or five hours of sleep every night in order to attend Patrick's classes and band practices the rest of the day.

Patrick Henry's mother, Patricia, who does not feature in the video, is no ordinary woman either, though she remains largely anonymous through the story. She works full-time to supplement the family's income and to look after the house, Patrick Henry's medical needs, and his sibling. 

There’s many things that Patrick Henry Hughes can teach us. One is that if you are determined enough to succeed, then you will; no obstacle can keep you from your dream if you have the will to take it on and beat it.

The other is that we are not islands, even through our most singular achievement. As Kristen Lamb says over and over, we are not alone. 

Ordinary and extraordinary. It's everywhere. It all depends on how you look at it.

Enjoy the clip, if you haven't ever seen it. The tissues are over there on the top shelf.