The Meaning of Can't

Says Zeke Williams, “I try to concentrate on doing better at what I can do already and seldom waste time wanting to do things that are beyond my capabilities.”
by Ezekiel Williams on January 1, 2009 - 4:03pm

QUEST Vol. 16, No. 1

At a small shop inside a large mall in the Mexican state of Sonora, I drove up to the counter in my electric wheelchair, lifted the aluminum can of soda up onto the counter and put down 20 pesos beside it.

As the friendly older lady handed me the change, I asked her if she would pop the top for me, seeing as this small task wasn’t possible for me to do. She was glad to do this, but at the same time she asked in a bit of a surprised tone, “You can’t?”

And when I assured her that I actually couldn’t, she gave me the usual “I’m sorry” look.

Now this here is a situation that I have never liked. But this time, instead of being bothered, I just said: “You know, when there is a thing that I can do, I’m glad that I can do it. But when it’s something that I can’t do, I consider it just as well that I don’t have to.”

At this she stopped for a second, puzzled, but then suddenly she smiled and said, “You’re right.”

There, I’d done it! I had actually come up with something to say back to “I’m sorry.”

As I turned to leave the shop, the lady had one more thing to say to me.

“I’m glad I could do that!”

 “So am I,” I said with a chuckle. “Gracias.” We both laughed then.

The first thing that I did when I got home was to pick up a pen and one of my notebooks and write it down, a saying that I could be proud of, one that worked. I was glad that I could write.

I think a lot of people would consider my new saying to be a wrong way of thinking. Everyone wants to do more than they can, right?

Well, for those that think that way, I have an explanation.

A lot of people wish that they could do things that are so big that if their wish was granted, they might not even want to do it.

For example, “changing the world and making it a better place” probably is on the list of the top-10 most popular wishes. But just imagine that tomorrow someone powerful ordered you to actually carry out this task. Would most people be willing and dedicated enough to spend their whole lives trying to finish such a hard job single handedly?

What I’m trying to say is that a lot of people tend to wish they could do things when they may not even realize the magnitude of their wishes. Another example of this is brought to mind by a wish that is perhaps even more popular than the first: “I wish I were rich and famous.”

Poof! Fame and riches are yours. But did you really want them? I mean, will there come a day when this wish will turn out to be too much for you?

My guess is that it will, perhaps sooner than you think. The reason I say this is that I, and I’m sure most others, have read or heard more than one account of a life ruined by fame and riches. I imagine that after a lot of rich-and-famous people’s lives were torn apart, they wished they’d never wished the wish of fame and riches to begin with — like the message in the story of King Midas, who was granted his wish to have a golden touch.

There are more stories than I can count of people who wished for things it turned out they didn’t really want, and what I get from these stories is my new saying: “Let’s be glad that we don’t always have to do everything that we wish for.”

On those occasions when I get frustrated about the things that I can’t do, I wish I could do everything that was ever done, thought up or dreamed of. But then I realize that I’m not the only one with this problem — in fact, everyone in this world has limitations. Some are more limited than others. And everyone has at least one or two things that they’re good at, maybe even close to being the best at.

Maybe what I can do already is enough for me, and hey, maybe I don’t want to do all that other stuff anyhow.

All right, maybe I do want to do some of it.

I’m not saying I don’t like doing things, much to the contrary. I love being able to do all that I can.  But I try to concentrate on doing better at what I can do already and seldom waste time wanting to do things that are beyond my capabilities.

Right now I enjoy painting and writing down the stories and ideas that come to my mind.

As I plan my next masterpiece, I want it to be something with an all-new idea and meaning. Although most people in the world would not consider me an accomplished artist, I’m still happy to be able to paint, another “can do.”

Now that I think of it, I can do so many things already that when I get to doing them, I have little time to think about wanting to do more.

Zeke Williams, 23, of Nogales, Ariz., has Duchenne muscular dystrophy.  He likes painting and writing and invites comments at For more on Zeke, read the story of his family’s year on a ship.

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