Get Into The Groove

March 28, 2009
Harvest Hop

Karen Dahlstrom and I at Borah High School's Harvest Hop Dance (1987)

Before my diving accident caused me to be a quadriplegic, I loved to dance. From my 14th birthday to the day I broke my neck the social event of my life was the Saturday Night Dance, more commonly known as the SND.

The SND was a regional dance that was held every Saturday. There were few things I looked forward to during that time of my life like I looked forward to the SND. In fact, the greatest punishment my parents could excise in those years was to “ground” me from the dance.

I seem to remember many Saturdays when, late in the afternoon, my dad would ask me if I had completed my chores (in particular, if I had mowed the lawn) where my answer in the negative brought out the threat of missing the dance. Too many times, without enough hours to do the job right, I would run behind the lawnmower as it bounced up and down in front of me. Big, huge pieces of lawn were missed completely. But, by the time I asked my dad to check if the lawn had been completed, it was dark and I was free to go. I remember just as vividly the Sunday mornings that followed when my dad realized my work was shoddy and I was sternly invited to mow the entire lawn again on Monday. Although the repercussions were never fun, the payoff of the SND was always worth it.

One might imagine then the concern I had when I returned home from the hospital paralyzed from the chest down. I didn’t know if you could dance in a wheelchair. I had never seen it done. I didn’t even know if I could date in a wheelchair. So, fearful to try, I did my best to stay away from dating and dancing completely.

I returned to school from the hospital in October. In the beginning, I only had the strength and ability to attend a few classes. It wasn’t until well into that sophomore year that I was able to take anything even close to a full load. My absence from school made easier to stay absent from dancing and dating. I benefited from a kind of, “out of sight, out of mind” situation.

My junior year was different. First, I was attending school full-time. My health allowed me not only to be more present during the school day but that extra curricular activities as well. I started to become more involved in student government and was elected junior class president. I was a regular fixture at the athletic events.

This all made for a social calendar more full than I had ever hoped. But, it also made it difficult to stay away from the dating and dancing that scared me so.

I had been to a dance before and before I could even catch my breath and get comfortable as a wallflower, one of the chaperones took me out on the floor and began moving my manual wheelchair back and forth “dancing” for me. This might have been a good idea for some people who were in chairs and although I knew his heart was in the right place, I was mortified and felt more disabled; not less. Within literal minutes I found my ride and convince them to take me home. I wasn’t there long enough for it to count as attending a dance. I was barely there long enough for it to count as listening to a song.

If this experience did anything it made me more nervous and frightened about attending a full dance not to mention a “date dance” and taught me that unless I wanted someone to dance for me (embarrassing me to no end) I was going to have to figure out how to dance for myself. Try as I might I couldn’t figure out a way to resolve the problem with an answer that resulted in me dancing in a way that looked or felt comfortable at all.

My first real hurdle was Homecoming.

As a junior class officer I had some responsibility with reference to the activities that went on during the week, including the dance. This, coupled with my other involvement prompted a lot of questions about my plans for the Homecoming dance.

Somewhere around the middle of September my friends started asking, “Who are you taking to the dance?”

I had to be very careful about how I answered that question. My friends had decided that they were not going to treat me any different because I was in a wheelchair. They refused to accept excuses that had to do with my disability. In fact, if I was ever trying to get them to buy into an excuse bringing up my disability would only ever hurt my chances, not help them.

I knew that if I were I to tell them that I wasn’t going to the dance because I was unsure of how to date or dance in a wheelchair, not only would they never accept that excuse but, it would most likely prompt them to respond by showing up at my home the night of the dance, coming down to my room, lifting me out of bed in my pajamas, throwing me into the car and introducing me to my date; who would surely be the easiest girl they could find on short notice–Probably some lady standing just off the on-ramp near my house holding a sign saying, “Will work for food.”

As nervous and scared as I was to attempt any real dancing in a wheelchair, their potential response scared me even more. It was for this very reason that when they asked me who I was taking to dance I told them that unfortunately I was going to be out of town. This answer seemed to appease them, and the subject was dropped.

On the night of the Homecoming dance I took my power wheelchair and drove to Meridian from Boise. For those people who know the area this is not a long trip. In fact, the journey took about two and a half minutes… round trip… on my elbows. I could essentially spit to Meridian from my house. But, this way my excuse held up without necessitating a lie, for I was “technically” out of town.

The dance was on a Saturday night. At school, on the Monday that followed, everyone was talking about the dance. They were laughing and joking already nostalgic about the fun and good times they had. A few days later the photographer that took the pictures at the dance came to school to deliver the portraits. I remember sitting in the hall watching everyone carry around the black cardboard frames that carried the photos from the dance.

I wanted to be carrying one of those frames so bad I could hardly see straight. I didn’t even care if I was in the picture. I just wanted to be included. I didn’t want to be the only one without photographs and memories from the dance. Worse still my heart wanted to be dating and dancing, but my fear kept me both in check and at home.

The next “date” dance at my school was called the “Harvest Hop”–a kind of a Sadie Hawkins dance. Like most dances of its kind, it was a “girl ask guy” evening where tradition held that in addition to the traditional responsibilities of the dance the girl would also buy matching shirts. This way the couple would be what they called in the vernacular of the day “twinners.”

I was quite sure that I was safe. I hadn’t really done any dating since my accident or dancing in a wheelchair and figured that the girls at my school would see me simply not an option.

A few days later, as I pulled into my driveway on my way home from school, I noticed a big basket on my doorstep. I don’t remember exactly what was in the basket, but knowing the way teenage girls went about asking teenage boys to dances at my high school, I am sure that it was filled with balloons you had to pop, to find puzzle pieces that you put together, to make a map, that took you on a scavenger hunt, that required two days and a pup tent, which eventually led to a box of Cheerios, that had to be emptied out, in order to find the one specific Cheerio, that had been dyed green, and had the invitation to the dance inscribed around its side.

I went through the steps required to figure out what I was being asked to and who was doing the asking. When I figured out I was being asked to the “Harvest Hop” by a cute girl, my brain went into overdrive and I immediately told Karen that I would go to the dance.

Minutes after giving Karen my answer I heard a little voice in my head that screamed, “YOU DON”T KNOW HOW TO DANCE!” In an instant all of the fear that my excitement had skipped over came back in a flood that made Noah’s look like a puddle. I knew I had to do anything and everything I could to get out of this dance.

A few days later I found out that Karen had purchased short sleeve “twinner” shirts for us to wear to the dance. I went up to her and explained that since the dance was in November, short sleeve shirts would be too cold, and we should therefore not go to the dance.

I went into our discussion with what I felt like was a good, well thought out argument. However, like most arguments I have had with women in my life, we talked for a little while and as I left the conversation I realized that for reasons I can hardly explain, we were still going to the dance.

Every week we went through the same exercise. I came up with a good argument that seemed airtight and indestructible, we would talk for a while and at the end of the conversation were still going to the dance. Finally, the dance was only a few days away and I needed to find an out.

I found Karen in the hallway, stopped her and with all the power, and strength I could muster said, “Let’s just not go.” She returned my gaze with one that told me I had much to learn about power and strength and said, “Jason, shut up and go.” Not wanting any part of anything she was about to reign down upon me I replied, “Yes ma’am.”

The night of the dance I was a nervous wreck. I was unsure of so many things. My handicap accessible van had not yet been converted and so I was unable to drive. This meant Karen was going to not only transport us to and from the activities she had planned for the evening, but it also meant she was going to have to lift me in and out of the car to attend those activities. I had heard that we are going the dinner like a picnic in a barn. I was just learning how to eat without the aid of my special utensils and I was unsure how I was going to do that in front of a group and without table. Not to mention having no idea how I was going to actually dance in my wheelchair.

Karen pulled into my driveway in her cute little Toyota Tercel. Unfortunately, the trunk wasn’t large enough to fit my wheelchair, so she had to go home and get her mom’s Country Squire Station Wagon. It wasn’t a car, it was an event. It felt like it took four blocks just a parallel park this thing.

They loaded up my chair, and my dad taught Karen how to get me in and out of the passenger seat of the station wagon and we were off. The first half of the night went relatively well and after dinner we ended up at the dance. We went into the dance and there is a huge long line waiting to get their pictures taken. Karen suggested that we go into the dance and wait until the line for pictures became a little shorter. I said no, hoping that the line for pictures would be long enough that by the time the pictures were actually taken the dance would be over.

We finally reached the photographer, had our pictures taken, and there was plenty of dance left.

As we came on the dance floor the first song was a fast song. I had no idea what to do and so I started to mock what we called the seventh-grade shuffle (because it’s the way all the seventh graders who have no idea how to dance; dance.) Everyone’s familiar with it, for everyone’s not only seen it they’ve actually done it. In essence the “shuffle” is clumsily moving back and forth trying to find the rhythm while you clap your hands.

Although “the shuffle” got me through the first song, by the time the second song was playing my confidence was increasing as was my ability to move with the beat. I started to get a little more aggressive on the dance floor.

I was “feelin’ the groove” and “gettin’ down” by the time the third song had begun. In the middle of the fourth song the spotlights were shining on me, and in my best John Travolta imitation I took off my jacket threw it into the crowd and began pointing my arm up and down thinking, “Stayin’ Alive, Stayin’ Alive!” All of the people at the dance and circle around me and clapping in unison were chanting, “Go Jason! Go Jason!” (O.K. that maybe a little of an exaggeration. Let’s just say I was having a good time.)

Then, it happened. The DJ put on a slow song. If I was unsure about how to dance to a fast song I had no idea what to do with a slow one. I remember thinking, “Punch bowl, get to the punch bowl.” I turned that little wheelchair of mine around and started doing what felt like warp eight for the refreshment table.

Just then, Karen grabbed the back of my wheelchair, spun me around, jumped on my lap, put her arm around me, and said, “let’s dance.”

It was the first time since my accident that I saw my friends wishing day to were quadriplegics. Instantly, they were trying to figure out how they could get their dates to sit on their laps as well. The slow song was over and I felt like seat belting Karen into my chair and asking her if we could dance all the dances like this. Later, talking to my friends at the refreshment table I could see that they were dying to ask if they can borrow my chair for a dance.

The dance finally ended and Karen took me home. I had a wonderful time. It was better than I ever could have hoped for. Somehow, someway she helped me get into the groove.

The real lesson in this story comes when we ask ourselves, “Why?” Why was Karen willing to go through so much grief to take me to the dance.

I was far from the easiest date. It has to take some of the enjoyment away from the experience when leading up to the dance your date is, for the most part, scheming to find a way out of going.

In a time like high school when status is everything and everything defined status, she didn’t get to drive the coolest car to the dance. Instead of her little Tercel she was forced to take the family station wagon. Although my wheelchair fit in the back of the car, there was also enough room for the band, the band’s equipment, the refreshments, the refreshment table, and everyone at the dance. It felt like there was more room in the car than there was in the gym.

In addition, not many ladies like the whole process of asking fellas on dates in the first place, let alone having to lift them in and out of the car along the way. Karen had to lift me in the car at the house, out of the car at the place we ate dinner, back into the car after dinner, out of the car when we arrived at the school for the dance, and back into the car after the dance. Not only was is a lot of work, it was probably a little uncomfortable as well.

I wasn’t the most popular or best looking kid at my school. I’m quite sure there weren’t any students camped out at the school’s entrance wondering, “Who gets to take Jason Hall to the dance.”

But Karen cared. She cared more about me and my experience and she did about all the rest of that stuff. The fact that I went to the dance was more important than status or popularity, and because it was my life became different.

With absolutely no hyperbole I can say that she changed my life. She showed me that I  could find a way to dance without a chaperone’s help. To Karen’s credit I never missed another dance during high school or college.

To some that may seem a small thing. But to me, trying to find my way, it meant the whole world and helped me continue to have the courage to be involved the same way I was before my injury.

Like Karen, everyday we have the opportunity to make sweeping differences in the lives of others. But we can’t just see those opportunities and not act. We have to do something to make a change. We have to do something to make a difference. Most often, it doesn’t take much. Most of the time, it simply takes the willingness to care more about others than we do about ourselves. For the most part, it takes thinking as much about others’ feelings then we do about our own status, popularity or other trivial, meaningless, earthly treasures.

Doing this, like Karen, we can encourage others to live differently. We can teach people to do things they previously thought undoable. It might take a little discomfort or a little sacrifice. It will definitely take a lot of cheering and support. But when we’re finished we’ll leave them with a sense of belonging.

Often, the greatest gift we can ever give is to help others feel comfortable, be accepted and allow them to get into the groove.

Jh-


Standing Up By Falling Down

March 11, 2009
Jonah In My Room

Jonah In My Room

Lying in the emergency room at the St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction Colorado, I was frightened and afraid. For reasons I still do not understand today the staff there wouldn’t let my dad (who sat in the waiting room) come and be with me. I was 15 years old, unable to feel or move anything below my arms, and totally alone.

This lasted for two hours. The doctors did test after test until finally they felt their diagnosis confirmed. It was then that they pull back the curtain, looked me in the eye and said, “Jason, you’ve broken your neck and will never walk again.”

I went into shock. Working to process the information I had been given, the next thing I knew I was laying in a CAT scan. As I laid in the machine, in what felt like a big white tube, I remember as I began to understand that my life had drastically changed. In the CAT scan of flood of worry and concern rushed over me. But, I will never forget the first worry I had .

From that day to this I have had a thousand concerns with reference to my disability. From that day to this I have had a thousand worries about being in a wheelchair. But, the first fear that flashed through my mind was, “Who will be my friend?”

I wondered who would want to go to the ball games with a guy in a wheelchair. I wondered who would want to go on a date or to dance with a guy in a wheelchair. I wondered who would want to just hang out with a guy in a wheelchair.

For, there were other kids at my school who were in wheelchairs and they didn’t have very many friends. I knew I myself had never made an effort to get to know them and wondered how people would react to me.

I was blessed as the countless group of my peers made the decision to bless my life as they answered my question saying, “I will. I will be your friend”

The next day I received a package filled with posters and cards with words of kindness and encouragement. My parents placed the posters all over the room so wherever I looked I was reminded of my friends support. With the posters and cards they also sent a cassette tape. When I was laying in surgery my friends all got together and recorded on both sides of a 60 minute cassette. I listened to that cassette all the time. I listened to it until it broke. When it broke I had my parents tape it back together, and then I listened to it until it broke again.

This continued for about a month until the doctors finally felt that I was healthy enough to have visitors. As soon as they were given the green light, a group of my friends hopped in their car and drove the six hours from our home in Boise to my hospital room in Salt Lake City. I couldn’t wait. I was excited to see every person in that car. They were my friends; friends like Jonah.

Jonah was one of my best friends.  We were as different as night and day. I was completely conservative; he was completely liberal.  I came from a devout Mormon family; his family often spoke and wondered about the existence of God.  My Dad was an entrepreneur with a business where he worked from early in the morning until late at night.  His parents loved their time off in the summer to work in their garden and in their woodshop building boats.  But somehow, somewhere in a place before this time, Jonah and I had made an agreement that on the face of this earth, we would be friends, and we were.   We were as close as two young men could possibly be.

Knowing that my friends were on their way, I watched the clock counting the minutes until their arrival. Finally, they were in the hospital and on their way up to my room.

The group entered the room one by one. Just seeing their faces lifted my heart. It’d been too long since I had interacted with my friends face-to-face and I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. Jonah was the last to enter, and I’ll never forget what happened next.

Jonah took no more than a few steps into my room, looked me in the eye, turned a pale white I hadn’t seen before or since and said, “Hi Jason, how are ya…” and passed out before he could finish his sentence.

To be fair, one has to understand what Jonah saw when he entered the room. The last time he’d seen me I was standing up 6 feet tall, 175 pounds and in the best shape of my young life. Now, I was lying down, and although still 6 feet tall, I now weighed 118 pounds. You could literally see every bone and joint in my body. In addition, I had tubes in my body and the markings of a halo brace which had recently been removed. This, accompanied with the smell that every hospital/care center/long term care facility seems to have was enough to put anyone over the edge.

Flustered and concerned at Jonah’s response, I quickly hit the button to call for the nurses assistance. My nurse came in and because of my poor health was so concerned about me she nearly missed Jonah altogether. She asked me what I needed and I told her I needed help getting my friend off the floor.

They helped Jonah up, took him out of the room, cracked the smelling salts and gave him some time to get ready to come back into the room. He had to lay down on the bed for a while, then stand up for a while and then finally was cleared for reentry.

Jonah passed through the door to my room is the rest of my friends and I were laughing, talking and catching up. He took a few steps toward my bed, again looked me in the eye and said, “Hi Jason, how are ya…” as he passed out.

Again, flustered I buzzed the nurses. They came in, looked at my friend and said something to the effect of, “Oh, him again.” Like before, they helped him out of the room, cracked the smelling salts and gave him some time to “right” himself before he came in again.

After nearly a half-hour Jonah was ready to again make the attempt. As he walked in my room the conversation between my friends and I stopped. We watched Jonah, wondering if he could make it this time. The nurses followed him in. It seemed like their hands were outstretched just waiting to catch him. Again he looked at me, and again he said, “Hi Jason, how are ya…” and again he passed out.

Three times he came in my room, and three times he passed out. He never even finished the sentence. I remember thinking, “How am I what?” The afternoon passed and in the end Jonah was able to spend some of the time in my room without being on the floor.

In my life, I’ve been in a number of hospitals. I have spent literally years of my life in a bed in some sort of a healthcare facility. In that time I have had hundreds and hundreds of visitors. But none has ever meant more to me than Jonah.

Some wonder how that can be. He spent more time outside my room than he did in it, and even in the room he had difficulty finishing even one sentence. But Jonah’s actions proved his friendship in a way words never could.

First, he was willing to endure some discomfort to prove his friendship. When a person passes out it can be an embarrassing experience. Just go to a local junior high choir concert and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Sometime during the concert a little seventh grader will lock their knees and fall right off the top riser. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that when they take their place again their face will be filled with embarrassment–nobody wants to pass out in public. Also, this passing out meant some pain for Jonah. His head wasn’t falling on plush carpeted floors. Each time he fell over his head smacked squarely on hard “hospital smelling” tile floors.

But my friendship meant enough to him that he was willing to go through some embarrassment and some pain to see it through–to show me that I was important to him.

Second, he kept coming back. No one would’ve faulted Jonah if passing out the first time was difficult enough to cause him not to want to come back again. But he did come back. And even though each trip meant more discomfort, embarrassment, and pain his desire to prove his friendship outweighed every negative consequence.

I learned a lot of things that day from the trip my friends made. Not the least of which was that Jonah Shue was my friend.

Every time Jonah fell down his spirit stood up reaffirming to me his friendship. If we want to have friends like Jonah, we have to be willing to be friends like Jonah. We have to be willing to go through some discomfort and pain to prove our friendship is real. We can say all the right things, but if our actions don’t follow suit in the end it really means nothing. That day, Jonah confirmed his friendship with his actions better than he ever could with his voice.

Lasting, confirmed friendships like Jonah’s helped me keep positive in negative times. They helped me remember to have the strength and fortitude that they saw in me. When the people who call themselves our friends act this way they will build us up when others would tear us down.  When we will find ourselves surrounded with people willing to endure the difficult with us, we will begin to enjoy more of the sublime.

I am who I am today because of people like Jonah who chose to stand up by falling down.

Jh-

You can check out what Jonah’s doing today by looking at his video here. (He’s on guitar)


Chores

March 6, 2009
Hospital TV

Working on my chores--Watching "The Private Eyes" with Don Knotts and Tim Conway.

On the beach directly after breaking my neck I wondered what life held in store for me. The EMTs that finally arrived by boat were fairly convinced that because of the way the accident happened the damage to my spinal cord would not be permanent. This was the news we wanted to hear. About three hours later, the doctors told me that the EMTs on the scene were wrong, that I had broken my neck and become quadriplegic; paralyzed from the chest down.

This was a lot of information for a 15-year-old boy to disseminate. Shortly after receiving the news, I was whisked away to over seven hours of surgery. The next morning as I laid in a specially designed hospital bed that moved back and forth to keep pressure from building up, my parents informed me that while I was in the hospital I had chores to do.

I knew what chores were, I had had them most of my life. Whether it was cleaning my room, setting the table, dusting the house or mowing the lawn, chores were something I was intimately familiar with.

Being in the hospital, I wasn’t necessarily looking for special treatment, but I did think that my current situation was maybe going to buy me a little break from making my bed.

I gave my parents a curious look wondering what they could possibly mean. I wanted to believe the unbelievable as much as anyone, but without a miracle there was no way I was mowing anyone’s lawn.

They proceeded to tell me that the chores I was going to be assigned in the hospital would be a little different. My dad pulled out a set of cards. On the first card was a list of what I had to do. The rest of the cards were part of the work. These were my chores:

1.) Read a list of my talents three times a day.
2.) Read a list of my blessings and things I had to be grateful for three times a day.
3.) Read a list of my dreams and spend time envisioning them coming real.
4.) Read a list of my goals.
5.) Have someone read something positive or uplifting to me once a day.
6.) Have someone read to me from the Scriptures three times a day.
7.) Watch or listen to something funny once a day.

These were my jobs. My parents took these assignments as seriously as they did the ones I had at home. Regardless of whether I felt sick or well, up or down, frustrated or content I had to do my chores.

There are some days I was glad for my list of things to do, and there were others when they were the last thing in the world I want to think about–much like the chores I was assigned at home. But in the end, those chores had payoffs I never would have imagined. Each task brought with it its own reward.

Reading my list of talents reminded me that although physically I had been limited, there were still many things that I could do. I was reminded of all the wonderful abilities I had–and in a world of “disability” that  was huge. Reading the list of blessings and things I had to be grateful for reminded me of all I still had in a time when every day I was reminded of things that had been taken away.

Reading my list of dreams reminded me that I still had dreams. In a time in my life when the world seem like one big dark nightmare that incandescent glow of my dreams kept the darkness at bay. Reading my list of goals reminded me exactly what I was in pursuit of, and kept that pursuit firmly ensconced in my mind. Listening to someone read things that were uplifting of a spiritual nature nurtured my soul. They reminded me of the unconquerable strength of a spirit that is well fed.

The humor made me laugh (even on days when I wasn’t sure there was much to laugh about.) In all my days dealing with difficulty and discouragement I have found humor to be a faithful ally. Some of the greatest therapy I have ever had is thinking back to the events of my life with a smile.

Having these chores also gave me something to do. When you first break your neck, your time in ICU is spent laying down and watching TV. I would receive an hour or so of therapy every day, but in those first weeks I simply allowed my body the time it needed to heal. Not to say that this wasn’t difficult, or necessary, it was just slow and without a lot of action. There were necessarily drastic changes every day which made it difficult sometimes to track exactly what was being accomplished.

Completing these chores gave me a sense of accomplishment. Although many of the things were very small things, in my world at that time finishing them each day gave me value and helped me to feel important.

In all the time that I have spent in hospitals I never went through any depression of any kind. I attribute this to a number of things, not the least of which are my chores. Learning the blessings that come from reminding myself of the most important things in my life, of my goals and dreams, and of the laughter left in the world benefited me then and benefits me still today.

I still have chores. I’m still not really good at mowing the lawn or making my bed. But I still have chores.

There is a feeling one gets after a hard days work. There is a feeling one gets after a hard days work. It’s a feeling of complete exhaustion and total contentment. It’s the knowledge that we’ve given something back to the world and that things are better both in our life and the lives of others due to our efforts. Chores taught me that if I ever wanted to succeed I needed to work to have that feeling everyday.

Give yourself chores, not just tasks, but chores like I had. Remember your talents, remember your blessings. Dream and envision those dreams becoming reality. Set goals and work to accomplish those goals. Read or listen to things that lift and make you laugh. Never forget to nourish your spirit and sense of humor.

When you do you’ll find a sense of fulfillment, accomplishment and well-being. Chores will make your life more rich, full and bright. As a young boy I never thought I’d say this, but I am grateful for chores.

Jh-


Heavy Lifting

March 3, 2009

My 20-year high school reunion is this summer and the planning for it has already begun.  I know that there will be many people there who have multiple children and many of those children will even be teenagers.  I can’t help but think about how this class reunion will be different for me than our last one; for this time around we will be among the “parents” of the group.  After 16 years of marriage and many obstacles along the way, Kolette and I finally have our first child, Coleman Jason Hall.  (Click here for the story of how Cole came into our lives and click here for the day to day tales of my life as a quadriplegic father.)

But all this talk of class reunions lately has reminded me of an experience I had just following my high school graduation, almost 20 years ago.

Jason at BYU

My first semester at college was particularly difficult. When I broke my neck at 15 my needs changed. I could no longer dress or shower myself and from the time of my diving accident to the time I left for college my family had always helped me take care of those needs. Now, leaving for school I was going to have to allow my roommate and my cousin’s husband to do my care.

I knew my roommate, but he had moved away from Boise during my sophomore year and it had been some time since I had interacted with him on a regular basis. My cousin’s husband I had never met before. This unfamiliarity made me nervous and scared.

First, their help required them to assist me with needs that were fairly sensitive and private. Although most freshmen in college are used to the “group shower” idea, being showered by someone else is a completely different matter altogether. In addition, I was concerned that if I had an argument with either of these aides that the repercussions might be severe. For instance, I wondered if a disagreement between my roommate and I would lead to me spending the night in my chair instead of my bed.

This fear led the homesickness and the homesickness led to a long semester my first semester at Brigham Young University (BYU). I went home every chance I could get. In my first semester I drove home eight times–six hours each way. I used any opportunity I could find to make the trip back home.

I went home for family birthdays, high school Homecoming and Thanksgiving. Heck, I went home for Veterans Day, Arbor Day… in fact any day. From the first of September to the middle of December I found eight weekends with a good enough excuse to return home.

During the semester when I couldn’t return home, and my sadness and discouragement became more than I could bear I would take my chair to a place at the foot of the mountains less than a quarter mile from my apartment. It was a beautiful spot filled with serenity and peace. I found that no matter how down I was on my journey to this spot the discouragement was gone when I returned.

On one such return home, after my spirits were successfully lifted, I found my chair surrounded with a gaggle of children who also lived in my apartment complex. When you’re in a wheelchair this is not an uncommon occurrence. Little kids always curious to know about the chair and have not yet been programmed to be afraid to ask questions. So, as usual the questions began. “Why do you use that?” “How far can you go?” “Can you do a wheelie?” I tried to answer the barrage of questions as quickly as they came.

As the group was asking me any question they could think of, I noticed one little Polynesian boy set apart from the crowd. He didn’t ask one question. He just kept circling me paying particular attention to the sides of my head. I’m not sure I noticed in the first couple of times he circled me, but as he continued to walk around my chair it became difficult to miss.

Finally, he stopped his orbit, stood directly in front of me and as loud as he could, he said, “Hey, you got big ears; like a monkey.”

If my journey that day to my peaceful, serene place had lifted my spirits at all, his comment caused them to again be deflated. Wondering who would say such a thing, I asked him his name.

He replied, “Hickey.”

I remember thinking that between my ears and his name, we were both in trouble.

Returning home I reflected further on the experience I just had. This little, innocent boy, knowing nothing about my situation (or frankly the effect of his words), had changed my day, and not for the better. I began to wonder how often I, who better understood the effects words could have, did the same thing; how many times had people’s days been different because of my influence.

Each day, each of us has countless opportunities to influence others for good or for ill. We each must decide whether the words and actions we use are meant to lift or to destroy. For, each day we find people who need to be lifted. We simply have to decide if we’re willing to do that kind of heavy lifting.

Over two thousand years ago, the most gifted of teachers from Galilee taught us of this responsibility in the parable of The Good Samaritan. In this teaching tale we find a man half dead on the side of the road. As he lays there bloodied and beaten, three men pass by.

The first two do so without a second thought. One a priest and the other a Levite, both important men of the day, seem to just not have the time or energy for the wounded man. The third man from Samaria, who many believed to be less than average, stops to bind up the man’s wounds.

In our everyday lives we, like these three men, pass by people laying half dead on the side of the road. They may not be physically injured, but they do require spiritual and emotional assistance.

We have to choose which tack to take. Will we follow Hickey’s example whose actions, although he was too young to understand them, made me feel self-conscious and less sure of myself. Or, will we follow the Samaritan and use our words and actions to help and lift up. Will we live in ignorance of the people depressed and down, or will we watch for those who need their spirits bound.

When we actively choose to do good in the lives of others a miracle happens. As we  encounter those who feel frustrated, alone and downhearted, we will see our positive interaction have an actual physical effect. These people, who need a positive lift walk through the hallways of our offices and down our streets with their heads down and their backs slouched. After our kind words and a simple deeds, we will see their lives benefit from our actions and watch in wonder as they walk away with their hearts lifted, backs straightened and heads held high.

Then, the real magic happens. As we were walk away from the experience we will find our own hearts happier, our own heads held higher, with a joy in our souls that wasn’t there before. For the work we put in to change the lives of others will, in the end, most powerfully change our own. The greatest gift we can ever give, to others and to ourselves, is the gift of service and love.

In all my years of challenge and adversity I have learned that there is nothing you can do two more powerfully lift your own spirit than to lift the spirit of another. Miracles happen during the heavy lifting.

Jh-

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Want more inspiration from Jason?

A Life Well Crafted

Join Jason and his wife, Kolette, in their online workshop “A Life Well-Crafted” offered through Big Picture Scrapbooking.  You’ll receive motivational messages for everyday living in the Audio Version as well as the opportunity to choose the Full Version of the workshop complete with project ideas to enhance your life.   Click here for more information and to register for the workshop.  It’s not too late to join us!


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