Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

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Location: Frederick Douglass National Historic Site; Washington, District of Columbia, USA

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Defying The Odds

What are the odds that you should be alive right now reading this article and my website? We don’t normally think about the likelihood of our existence on this planet but I believe that it’s something to ponder and be thankful for. We tend to not think about the odds behind being alive and breathing but it is quite fascinating if you do a little bit of research. According to Business Insider, the probability of you or any other human being existing comes out to 1 in 10^2,685,000.

That’s a huge number and leaves us with the very low probability of you actually existing at all. The odds of any of us actually believe according to this calculation is quite slim. In order for all of these events to align, your parents have to have met each other, fallen in love over a period of time, etc. for you to have been born as you are. When you consider the odds, the process of creating life is truly a miracle and is a reminder that we all have defied the odds at the first moments of our life.

When we consider the unlikely event of our births, it’s something that we should remember and take pride in. There are no greater odds against us than being able to experience existence as human brings after birth. If you are able to take into account how lucky and fortunate it is to be alive, then perhaps you’ll be able to defy the odds when it comes to how you live your life and meet the challenges that are in your way. No odds are greater than the probability of existence so when you keep that in mind, other goals that you have should not seem so insurmountable.

What must you do in order to defy the odds? Well, the first thing that you must understand is that you are going to have to put the work in. That is truly an undeniable fact of life is that the odds will be stacked against you when you’re first starting out but the only way to lessen those odds effectively is to put the time and effort in in order to have your best chance of success. If you do nothing at all and expect everything to instead be done for you, you’re not going to defy the odds and won’t be able to reach your goals.

When you’re working hard at a goal or an objective, there are always going to be the naysayers. If they are not somebody who has your full trust and confidence, it’s honestly better to ignore them than to take their critiques of you seriously. They know the odds are stacked against you and are rooting for you to fail. There is a clear difference between those people who give you sound advice to help you defy the odds and those other folks who would rather see you fail just for no other reason than they take pleasure from that happening.

If they are not giving you good advice or are helping you reach your goals despite the odds, then you need to cut those people out of your life. It’s okay to have critics when you are trying to do something big with your life especially when you’re trying to do something new but it’s not okay when they are actively trying to undermine you and prevent you from trying at all. Whether it’s trying out for the basketball team, starting your own business, or pursuing your PhD, you’re going to have some people out there doubting you and your abilities. Those people are not worth your time and energy. You need to invest your time instead on those people out there willing to support you in your goals despite how insurmountable and challenging they may be.

If you think the odds are stacked high against you, it’s best to chip away at them little by little. If it’s a long-term project or goal, you can make progress to keep you going over time and make you feel better about what you’re doing. If you know that you are getting better or improving in some way, then you are on the right track.

To give you all some perspective, let’s take a look at three people who had the odds stacked against them in life but still were able to have major success in their pursuits. These three people are Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, and J.K. Rowling.

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States and helped to save the union from splitting into two thanks to his leadership during the Civil War. He is considered to be one of the greatest presidents in American history along with George Washington. Assassinated while in office, Lincoln is immortalized in U.S. society as a brave man who was guided by a steady moral compass in his commitment to freeing the slaves.

What most admirers of President Lincoln forget is that his path to the Presidency was set back many times with failures and shortcomings. Unlike other American presidents including our current one, President Lincoln was not born into wealth or privilege. He was born into poverty and had to work from a young age to support his family especially after the death of his mother when he was only nine years old. Although he was not able to have consistent access to formal schooling, young Abraham was an avid reader who considered himself to be a lifelong learner.

This love of learning helped him to pursue his profession as a lawyer and later as a politician. The road to becoming President of the United States was not an easy one for Lincoln as he lost eight different elections before winning the highest office in the land. As if that weren’t enough, he twice failed in starting businesses and also battled severe depression even during his presidency. Him and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, also lost two children that would have broke anyone but President Lincoln never gave up on his goals and his vision for the United States as a truly free nation. Even when the odds were stacked against him, he knew never to give in to failure totally and to throw in the towel. He kept fighting to succeed and that drive and determination is why we remember him as being one of America’s greatest presidents.

Thomas Edison is known as America’s greatest inventor. We often take the light bulb as an invention for granted since it is so ubiquitous today as part of our daily lives. However, if you can imagine it, the light bulb was only patented in 1879, which is a little more than one hundred and twenty five years ago today. What would have happened had the light bulb never been invented? Would we be able to power our modern, technological society without being able to harness electricity without this invention so easily? While there is much debate about who actually invented the light bulb, Edison is acclaimed as the one who patented it along with a 1,000 other U.S. patents to his name. In addition to the light bulb, he is also credited with developing the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the stock ticker.

Despite the massive amount of success Edison eventually achieved, it took a whole lot of failure in order for him to be world-renowned. As an inventor, Edison had to work extremely hard to get his inventions to actually work. The most famous example of him defying the odds is when it took him over one thousand recorded attempts to get the invention of the light bulb to actually work. When a local reporter asked him, “How did it fail to fail 1,000 times?” Edison said, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

As you can see from the quote above, Edison injected a little bit of humor and self-deprecation into his failures. When you’re striving to defy the odds, you have to make sure that the failures you’ve had don’t stick with you and that you are able to rise above them. If Edison gave up after try #500 and chose to quit, I would not be referencing his powerful story today. He had the tenacity and drive not to give up and chase his dream of being a successful and innovative inventor.

Most importantly, Edison believed in himself and what he was doing. A teacher of Thomas Edison once remarked that, “he was too stupid to learn anything.” Edison was also fired from his first two jobs as an adult when his bosses thought he was “not productive.” Thomas Edison knew his self-worth and did not let others opinions of him stand in his way. He worked hard at his inventions, did not let his failures stop him, and became an American success story. He is a perfect example of literally defying the odds.

Before millions of fans would stand in line for hours to read her latest book or to go to midnight showings with their friends dressed as wizards and witches, famed J.K. Rowling was a struggling author trying to sell the first Harry Potter book to different publishers. She was a single mother living on welfare in the mid 1990s and was only able to sell the first book in the Harry Potter series for only $4,000. Now, over two decades later, she is one of the wealthiest women in the world and is a living example of the ‘rags to riches’ story. The Harry Potter series has installed a love of reading for my entire generation.

I have my own fond memories of going to the midnight book releases and racing home to read the latest book in the series throughout the night when I got my hands on a copy. More than just her writing, she inspires people both young and old with her standing up for those who have less in life and advocating for the fair and equal treatment of all people. J.K. Rowling didn’t let the success of her book series get to her head but has used her wealth and resources to donate to the causes of anti-poverty and improving children’s welfare.

While there is much debate over her views of politics and religion, the Harry Potter series is not only the biggest selling book and film series of all time but also a needed reminder of how we should treat other people with decency and respect despite their similarities and differences to us. Her actions in her writing and in her philanthropic work show us the importance of observing and following the ‘golden rule.’ Treat other people the way you would like to be treated. Hopefully, we all choose to remember that due to her example.

What do these three men and women have in common? They never gave up and they never gave in. Even when the stakes were raised against them, they were able to turn things around to become great successes in their pursuits. Although they were born in different eras and had different callings in life, they shared the common trait of fighting onward even when the odds were against them. That is why I am imploring you if you are reading this to keep going and keep fighting.

You have to defy the odds even when they look slim. Sometimes as shown above in the stories of these storied people, the greatest successes can come when all hope seems lost. You’re going to have to work harder than ever, you will have to put up with obstacles and barriers thrown in your way by life, and you will hear comments from the critics and naysayers but you must keep doing your best. To bring a pop culture reference into this weighty yet meaningful article, you must remember the words of the Jedi Master Yoda from the Star Wars series, “Do or do not, there is no try.” Good luck to you if you’re reading these words and I wish you much success in your endeavors.

Sources

1.) http://www.businessinsider.com/infographic-the-odds-of-being-alive-2012-6

2.) http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/education/failures.htm

3.) https://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Pajares/OnFailingG.html

4.) https://lifebeyondnumbers.com/people-defied-odds-find-success/

The Last Full Measure

This past weekend, I was able to visit Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of the most notable battle of the American Civil War, and one of the biggest battles in American military history. The battle of Gettysburg is also notable for being the main turning point of the Civil War. The outcome of the battle concluded with the Army of Northern Virginia, led by General Robert E. Lee, being prevented from invading further into the Northeast. Lee and his army were forced to retreat back into Virginia after the battles’ end and never again stepped foot in Union-controlled territory.

Set over a period of three days from July 1st – July 3rd of 1863, over 51,000 men from the Union and Confederate armies were killed, wounded, captured, or declared missing. It was the largest land battle ever fought in North America. More than 160,000 soldiers from both sides fought in the battle during those three tumultuous days with the town of Gettysburg and its civilians’ being caught in the crossfire. The battle of Gettysburg was fought on fields, marshes, hills, and sloping ridges over 10 square miles and around 6,000 total acres. In addition to the battlefield, Gettysburg is also home to a national soldiers’ cemetery close to the battlefield where the thousands of Union and Confederate troops, now long passed away, are ensconced in their final resting place.

The first thing one notices about Gettysburg is just how quiet and peaceful it is. One would have never guessed that a major battle had been fought here or that thousands of lives had been lost while fighting for their principles and values. The battlefield of Gettysburg, now devoid of soldiers and horses, still retains its wooden barriers, its replica cannons, and artillery. The National Park Service should be commended for restoring the grounds of the battlefield and keeping it clean for the more than one million plus tourists who visit the national military park each year.

What I was most surprised and pleased about during my visit was the amount of memorials, monuments, and tributes paid to the thousands of soldiers on the Union and Confederate sides. The armies, brigades, corps, divisions, etc. from each of the thirty states on both sides of the Civil War are each commemorated and memorialized in some form.

The most striking memorial to me was Pennsylvania’s state monument, the biggest and most awe-inspiring of them all. The Pennsylvania monument lists all of the soldiers’ names that fought for the commonwealth in the battle of Gettysburg. This monument in particular is Greco-Roman in design and has tributes to President Abraham Lincoln, and to notable soldiers and commanders from Pennsylvania. It also overlooks the entire battlefield of Gettysburg and can be seen from every part of the area.

Another notable memorial from the Gettysburg National Military Park can be found at the Gettysburg National Cemetery. In the center of the cemetery and overlooking the thousands of graves lying in repose is the Soldiers’ National Monument. This monument pays tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives at Gettysburg and is unique in quoting an allegory at its’ base that states, “Peace and plenty under freedom…following a heroic struggle.” In addition, this soldiers’ monument depicts the concept of ‘Liberty’ signified by a woman who carries a sword of war, while holding a wreath of peace. At the base, there are four separate statues representing ‘War, History, Peace, and Plenty’ in a chronological, circular order. In total, there are over 1,300 monuments, memorials and tributes at Gettysburg. It’s nearly impossible to see them all without spending a week or more at the battlefield because they are spread out over miles and miles of land. This is why it is known for being “the largest collection of outdoor sculpture in the world.”

You cannot come to Gettysburg without learning about the Gettysburg Address, and the process that led to President Lincoln delivering this famous and historic speech. While the spot where Abraham Lincoln gave the speech is not open to the public at this time, you can still see into the cemetery to view the general speech area. In addition, park rangers from the National Park Service are available for questions about the Gettysburg Address and a tour of the cemetery upon formal request. There’s also a bronze statue and monument of Lincoln’s bust along with an emblazoned copy of the entire Gettysburg Address close to the cemetery’s entrance.

American history was one of my favorite subjects from my high school days. The ability to go and visit historical battlefields like Gettysburg, Normandy, Lexington and Concord brings the history to life for me. I’ve been lucky enough so far to see some of the most notable locations of the American Revolution, Civil War, and World War II.

By visiting these places, you gain a great sense of gratitude and reverence around the conflicts, which these men fought and died in. You can better understand the costs and sacrifices that come with making war. Its’ also good to appreciate what we have today in our united country. There were times in our collective past as a nation when the concept of a ‘United States’ was very much in peril. Hopefully, we can continue to avoid the mistakes of the past, and learn from these dreadful conflicts.

The importance of seeking a brighter and peaceful future for our nation and the world is what I took from my visit to Gettysburg. These memorials, monuments, and the military park remind visitors and patrons alike why peace is something to strive for, even if it comes at a great cost. Sometimes, peace can only come through means of warfare, and that is why we give thanks to those men who gave their “last full measure of devotion.”

To learn more about the Gettysburg National Military Park, you can visit these websites for more information:

1.) https://www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm

2.) http://www.gettysburgfoundation.org