Earlier this year, I wrote two blog posts about traveling to and returning from the Toastmasters District 59 International Speech Contest in Düsseldorf, Germany. My run in the contest ended with a silver medal in the fourth round of six. But last week, a world champion was selected from the ten contestants who made it to the final round.
The winner is Mark Hunter, a 58-year old primary school principle in Brisbane, Australia. In front of 1,500 people in Mashantucket, Connecticut, he was awarded first prize in a contest which 30,000 people from around the world had entered at the beginning of the year.
Mark’s speech, entitled “A Sink Full of Green Tomatoes”, recounts an important lesson that he learned in his grandmother’s kitchen, and how it helped him approach life following a water-skiing accident that left him confined to a wheel chair at the age of 22.
Winning the contest took commitment and tenacity, and not only because of the physical challenges that Mark faces. Prior to this year, he had been a finalist twice in the World Championship, taking third place in 2007. It takes special character to make it that far, come so close, and then commit to the arduous process of doing it all again. Well done, Mark! Congratulations on many levels.
We’ll let Mark have the last word in today’s post. The text of his winning speech is set out below:
Literature is literally littered with lively legends. Amongst them rides Don Quixote the Man of La Mancha. An idealistic knight who fought for the rights of others and dared to dream the impossible dream.
Mr Contest chairman, ladies and gentlemen, while I dare not sing that song for fear it could be your nightmare, I like many of us here have dreamed impossible dreams. But to make one of my dreams even remotely attainable, I had to learn a lesson, perhaps a lesson for us all.
When I was 22 an accident changed my view of the world completely. Before the accident, I saw the world from an invincible 6 feet high, now I see it from the height of the consummate navel gazer.
In my new position, short and seated and recycled, I soon faced discrimination, so I became a modern day Don Quixote fighting for the rights of those with a disability. Many, many times, I would don the armor of righteousness; mount my trusty grey horse; Yeeeha! (Work with me here), raise my lance, and charge into hell for my heavenly cause, dreaming of a world where discrimination no longer existed.
But at other times, I would retreat, exhausted and just want to be invisible.
For many years as I championed this cause, I faced this problem: Do I want to fit in, or do I want to stand up, stand out and stand fast for who and what I am; do I want to be same or different?
I became consumed by this dilemma and desperate for an answer. I turned to books, coaches, meditation, you name it I did it, I even searched in the bottom of a bottle of whiskey – I eventually found my answer where many of our life’s most important questions are answered.
My Grandmothers kitchen was filled with the aroma of freshly cooked bread, and the quiet rhythmic chopping of vegetables was the only sound to be heard. On the bench, gleaming upturned jars were begging to be filled with her world famous tomato relish. Well, I thought it was world famous; my grandfather, Poppy, always said it could be used as paint stripper. I too would laugh at his mischief.
A splash was followed by her silent invitation to look in the water filled sink. A wildly bright red apple had accidentally tumbled in, and was bobbing amongst a dozen green tomatoes. Nana said, Mark, look in the sink. What do you want to be? I looked at my choice to be the one apple or one of many tomatoes- and I remembered thinking:
Who looks at fruit and veggies and becomes philosophical?
So how did I answer grandmother?
As I watched her, I finally understood her wisdom. Nana, I said. She stopped, turned, and waited. Nana, I want to be the water.
She turned back to her work, and I am sure I heard her smile.
She knew I had found my answer. That you can’t change the world by charging around like an idealistic knight. You change it from here, by being the water. You see water embraces everything completely. It does not differentiate young from old, black from white, tall from navel gazer. It simply encompasses all.
And what is this water if is not a unique definition of love. A definition reflected in Deepak Chopra’s work, where he writes for love to be real it has to flow out and around what is loved. This water is liquid love. When I am the water, when we are the water, the need to fight the good fight no longer exists. The need to work out whether we are the same or different no longer exists. When we love with the intimacy of water, difference doesn’t exist.
It’s what this liquid love does. What happened in the kitchen allowed me to replace the passion of youth with the wisdom of my grandmother (maybe cut) and so with my new understanding I began to change my world from in here.
Ladies and Gentlemen: In an ordinary kitchen, I learnt an extra-ordinary lesson. One which enabled me to take off my armor and get off this horse, not literally. I learnt from my grandmother that it doesn’t matter how we are different. It’s how we love that matters. So this morning, I offer you her wisdom. In a sink full of green tomatoes and one wildly red apple, there is so much, so very much to be gained from being the water.