Several weeks ago I was forwarded a “must see” video from my mother-in-law. Unlike many videos forwarded to my email box, this one was followed up by an immediate phone call from my husband. “Did you watch it yet? Did you open the email?” his voice raced on the other end. Curiosity got the better of me; I stopped what I was doing and clicked on the link. What I would find was a six minute video offering a glimpse into the incredible life of Patrick Henry Hughes.
As the video began, two things stuck out immediately – Patrick’s incredible musical talent and the joy that radiated from his face. Patrick was born 23 years ago with Bilateral Anophthalmia, meaning he was born without eyes. In addition, he was born without the ability to fully straighten his arms and legs, making it impossible for him to walk. Add to all of that two steel rods surgically attached to his spine when he was a child for scoliosis treatment and Patrick has endured more challenges than most people could even imagine.
I quickly wondered how I or those around me would greet life and what our character would be comprised of if we were faced with Patrick’s trials – would we be bitter and upset or grateful and full of joy? Patrick sums up his outlook on life during the video in one incredible and powerful statement: “God made me blind and unable to walk…big deal! He gave me ability with the musical gifts that I have and the great opportunity to meet new people.” (I can admit, I was tearing up at this point!)
The Early Years
The Louisville native stated during our interview that he never lets anything get him down – he just looks at the blessings. He remarked how thankful he was to be born into a strong and loving family that never dwelled on the things that he couldn’t do, but focused on the things that he could do. One of Patrick’s abilities is his exceptional musical talent. Patrick recalled a story from his father regarding his first interaction with a piano, stating, “One day my father was taking care of me and he did everything that he knew how to do to get me to stop crying. He was at a loss as what to do next, but being well versed in violin and piano he decided to lay me on top of our old wood piano and play. I immediately got quiet.”
Patrick’s father, Patrick J. Hughes, then decided to go one step further – taking the tray off of his son’s wooden high chair, assuming that he might enjoy “banging on the piano”. Instead, Patrick began to play with one finger. Patrick’s mother recalls how even before his first birthday he was able to find and copy any note or string of notes played on the piano. By the age of two, Patrick was playing requests.
Fast forward a few years to his sixth birthday, when Patrick began taking piano lessons from a woman named Diana…who was also completely blind. “Whoever thought that the blind leading the blind could actually be a good thing!” Patrick chuckled. “Also being blind, Diana could understand and appreciate how I needed to learn the piano.” When Diana had taken Patrick as “far as she could” he began to take lessons from a Julliard trained pianist with occasional input from his father (when dad’s schedule allowed).
“Both of my parents have been such great role models. To hear them tell the story of how they decided a short time after my birth that they wouldn’t be withdrawn and reclusive but instead take me out and show me off to people, for that I am thankful. They have always given me the courage to try to do something once before making a final decision…of course there are some things I can’t do, like driving a car,” Patrick laughed, “but with almost everything else, we give it a shot!”
The Role of Faith
In addition to his parents, who Patrick described as “encouraging and open-minded”, he openly shared how his strong faith in God has gotten him to where he is in life. “God is always a great help. If ever I am facing something that is too challenging, I go to Him in prayer. I also read the Bible every day,” he explained. Patrick, who is now on his 11th reading of the Bible, proclaims A Purpose Driven Life as one of his favorite books, stating, “One of my favorite quotes from that book is that you can read the Bible in one year if you commit yourself to reading it fifteen minutes each day. So, I decided to test this theory out,” he joked, “and sure enough, I started on March 30, 2007 and finished it on February 5, 2008 – a little less than a year. Anyone can accomplish this…it just takes fifteen minutes a day.”
One trap that Patrick does not allow himself to fall into is feeling sorry about his situation. “Maybe two or three times in my life I asked my parents why I was born blind or unable to walk – It wasn’t a poor pitiful thing but more so a fact-finding mission. Their response was ‘because that is how God made you’. With that attitude I try to look at the blessings that I have been given. Over the years, many people have asked me to describe what it is like to have my ‘disabilities’ but I see them more as abilities,” shared Patrick. “For instance, I actually see blindness as ability over sight. People with sight tend to judge others by their hair color, their clothing and their skin color – but by being blind, I get to judge a person solely on what is in their heart. I don’t have any of the outward distractions.”
In addition to being given the gift of incredible music abilities, Patrick has also been blessed with a love for education. He graduated Magna Cum Laude last December with a degree in Spanish from the University of Louisville. The particular video that I watched showed the commitment that not only Patrick made to complete his degree, but that his father also made. Working the graveyard shift at UPS, Patrick’s father was lucky to catch four or five hours of sleep each night before spending every day with Patrick attending each class, taking notes and also becoming his “legs and feet” so that they together could become a “two-person” member of the Cardinal Marching Band at the University.
Thinking back to when Patrick was first born, his father stated in the video, “It is just countless the number of dreams that died – my wife and I were devastated. We just asked ‘Why us?’ – we played by all of the rules, we worked hard.” Upon seeing his son’s musical talent shine through in a magnificent way shortly after birth, Patrick’s dad added, “I was just ecstatic…and I thought ‘Okay, you know we aren’t going to play baseball, but we are going to play music together.’ That was really exciting and I thought ‘let’s see how far we can run with this.'” And that is exactly what the pair did.
By the time Patrick began college at the University of Louisville, his music abilities on the trumpet and piano were recognized by many. When he was asked to become a member of the marching band, Patrick and his father chuckled and embraced the challenge. Patrick remembers thinking, “How in the heck am I supposed to march?”
Patrick’s father felt that if the University had a strong desire to have his son become part of the marching band, and Patrick wanted to do it, that he would give his all as well. And so, Patrick would play and his father would push – completing the task together and becoming the fan favorite at all of the games.
Living Out His Potential
Now a college graduate, Patrick and his father travel the world so that people can listen to Patrick’s testimony and hear him perform. He added that one day he would like to be an interpreter or perhaps an international ambassador and put his Spanish degree to use. His “dream job” however, would be a television game show host.
“My true love is to meet new people. That is my favorite part about doing the speaking engagements – I look forward to speaking with people one on one at the end,” he explained. When asked if there was one special moment he remembered that occurred while sharing his story, Patrick stated: “I remember visiting a small church in the Kentucky area and after our speech and presentation, a woman came up to me and put her hand on my shoulder and said ‘My name is Jane Smith and I am 94. I have been a Christian since I was 14 and I don’t think I have ever felt closer to God than at this moment.'”
Humbled, Patrick stated, “I have my imperfections. It’s natural to wonder “why” about some things, but I just try to remember that life is a blessing and I am only human. I want to remind people to not only focus on the great things that you might have but also the small things – a good family, food to eat, a roof to sleep under and just being able to wake up in the morning and greet the day. Yesterday has come and gone and we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow – all we have is this 24 hour timeframe that makes up today and we should live it to the fullest.”
For those who want to learn a little more about Patrick, check out his new book I Am Potential. “I Am Potential isn’t just an autobiography. The main focus of the book was to give eight life lessons, so that whether you read the book today or in thirty years from now, those lessons would still be useful.” I Am Potential can be purchased on Patrick’s website (www.patrickhenryhughes.com) along with his CD’s – a compilation of Classical, Jazz, Show tunes, Gospel and Trumpet music. “When people hear him play they recognize ‘Wow, imagine the possibilities that I didn’t even consider when I saw this young man, that I know now when I hear him play,'” his father added towards the end of the video.
So, the next time someone wants to show you an “incredible video”, I ask that you take a few minutes out of this hectic existence that we call life and enjoy the gifts that God has placed all around us – sometimes in one incredible human being who not only defies the odds that have been placed upon him but does so with grace and humility. Patrick Henry Hughes is truly a role model for us all.
To learn more about Patrick Henry Hughes, please visit: www.patrickhenryhughes.com. Speaking engagements and performances can also be booked through his website. The YouTube video spoken about in this article can be found at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xwCG0Ey2Mg