Everyone has habits.
I‘ve got a really bad coffee habit (or a really good one depending on your perspective). If I have a question to ask, I’ll raise my hand without even thinking as if you were my second grade teacher. When I set alarms, they rarely ever end in a 0 or a 5 — instead my radio alarm starts playing at 5:01am or my phone goes off at 5:06am (alright alright, that’s just on work mornings, I normally sleep in a bit later than that…)
I also have this habit where if someone’s walking towards me and we make eye contact, I smile at them and continue on my way. Nothing wrong with a smile right? Sometimes situations allow the exchange of a few words, like in an elevator or something. You know, those times when you use one of those simple inquiry phrases that show someone you see them and you wish them well in whatever path their life is on.
A few weeks back I had engaged in one of those “simple word exchanges” that I guess was really anything but simple.
“Talk about a great weather huh! How’s your day going today?”
“Yea. Uh, it’s alright.” — Pause—
“You know, I’ve got problems, but at least I’m not in a wheelchair.” — Pause—
“Oh, I don’t mean that in a rude way.”
You know, you hear about moments or situations where people get the wind knocked out of them. Someone got tackled in football, a dude fell over backwards on the ice, all these obvious situations that result in the literal wind being taken from your sails. Yes, I’ve had said “wind knocking” happen to me in a physical sense during my life but I had never realized how similar the sensation would be as the result of a verbal statement.
At least I’m not in a wheelchair.
It’s amazing how much time has passed since I heard that short statement and how those words from someone I don’t even know still sting. You know, I’ve been trying to think of a way to relate that statement and its impact to “normal person” life and all I can come up with is “I may have problems, but at least I don’t have to walk everywhere.” It sounds ridiculous and that’s probably because it is.
Today marks three years since my injury.
Three years since the dead tree fell.
Three years since I became someone”in a wheelchair.”
I’ve come to learn a lot during those 1,095 days, although I know I still have plenty more learning to do. I’ve cried over loss — loss of movement, independence, relationships. I’ve celebrated “firsts” — first time dressing myself, first time driving myself to Starbucks, first time finishing a marathon. I’ve journeyed to physical and emotional places I’ve never been and this is just year three of hopefully many many more.
You know, the disabled population is a remarkably unique group. It’s filled with extraordinary diversity, even within a “sub-type” like a spinal cord injury. It’s a minority group that unlike skin color or race, any person could find themselves a part of (often suddenly) at any stage or moment in their life.
If someone would have pointed out that remarkably true fact to me as a 21-year old, I probably would have responded in a similar tune as that random stranger. The tune that self-confidently hums all the undertones of stereotypes, negative perceptions, and inadequacies of a person with a disability. At least I’m not in a wheelchair.
At three years out, I can’t even begin to tell you how grateful I am that I have the opportunity to still be here, sitting in this (very cool looking) wheelchair. I’m not “confined” or “bound,” I’m free to live, work, volunteer, travel, apply to medical school, and do so many other amazing things.
It’s not the present I planned for myself, but my wheelchair reality is one I’m grateful for on so many levels. Levels of new adventures and life experiences. Levels of everlasting friendships and challenging goals. Levels of dealing with challenges and obstacles I didn’t realize can and do exist in people’s lives.
I’m in a wheelchair …. and it’s a cool one.
I’m in a wheelchair …. and it has taken me places I never would have gone walking.
I’m in a wheelchair …. and I’m proud of it.