Sometimes the smallest victories in life are the most enriching; the minor triumphs often resonate the loudest. This was a lesson I learned while living in Carrboro during college. The rent was cheap, the residents were eclectic, and I was eager to soak up everything the Paris of the Piedmont had to offer. I was unleashed to explore new perspectives off the university lawns. However, meeting my new neighbor that first day was a glaring reminder that I had much yet to learn about life.
With a beaming smile and booming voice, Marty Ravellette introduced himself. In conjunction with his obvious lack of arms, his signature jumpsuit, bare feet and slicked-back hair made Marty quite a character to behold. Trying to process but without rudely staring, I shifted the box I held and outstretched my hand to shake his, remembering too late he did not have arms. As I stood there horrified at my own gesture, he laughed at my faux pas and welcomed me to the neighborhood.
In the following fall months, it became obvious Marty did everything better than me. His patio always teemed with flourishing plant growth while mine cowered in submission. On days I stumbled to class still in my pajamas, I would inevitably pass Marty on his way to work, showered and clean. I would enviously watch him park his van with his feet, as I could never manage to park my car straight. His handicap was not a setback, it was just who he was. Each step in his daily life, from getting dressed to eating, was a triumph, but he treated every task as a minor step along the way. I promised myself that I would accept every challenge with such grace.
The morning after a big winter freeze, I was walking past the apartment office to see the large oak tree that had fallen onto the roof. Marty stood by the exposed roots with one bare foot on a gas-powered chainsaw, his other foot anchored in the snow. He asked if I would mind helping him for a moment, and my heart fluttered with worry. What if Marty had realized that this project was just too much for him to master and he would not be able to do it without the help of someone with arms? What would I know about cutting trees? I had never operated a chainsaw before and would not pretend to know the first thing about even getting it started. "Do you need help cutting the tree down?" I reluctantly asked.
"No," he laughed. "Can you unscrew the gas cap for me? They put it back on too tight."
I unscrewed the cap. Marty filled the tank with gas and replaced the cap. I returned later that afternoon to see that he had in fact cut the tree down.
Marty Ravellette was killed in a car accident Monday, Nov. 12. His life was in no way a minor triumph, for he achieved more without arms than most people do with arms. Each day was a victory and he was unapologetically fearless—a lesson we could all stand to remember.