Freedom

July 4, 2009
Independence Day

Independence Day

On this Fourth of July people’s minds begin to turn to their freedoms. They begin to think about how grateful they are to live in a country where they can live, act, and worship freely.

I too am grateful for these freedoms. I am grateful for the price paid by so many to allow me to have those freedoms. Often, I think it becomes easy to forget that the freedoms we sometimes so easily take for granted can, if were not careful, be taken away.

On July 13, 1986 I very nearly lost my freedom.

I was involved in a diving accident that caused me to become a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down. So many things were taken from me that day. Many of them were simple and basic freedoms. Like the freedom to feed myself. The freedom to get around without a wheelchair. The freedom to get in and out of bed on my own. The freedom to bathe, shave and dress myself.

Then, on the 21st of November, a car accident took even more freedoms.

But truth be told, through it all, some pretty incredible people have allowed me to keep the freedoms that matter most.

After my diving accident, friends sent me pictures that reminded me of their love and support. Along with the posters they also sent, those photos were plastered all over my room. These good people reminded me that I was free to be a part of their lives, and free to let their support lift me up when I felt down.

Good Friends

Good Friends

Good Stuff

Good Stuff

During both accidents, and through any other little bump in the road, my family continues to support me all the way. They made it clear that I was free to be a part of a family all my days on the earth. They reminded me that I was free to dream; free to go and do anything my mind believed that I could achieve. They  taught me I was free to ignore the negativity that so often others tried to surround me with.

Good Support

Good Support

Good Fun

Good Fun

Literally, weeks into meeting Kolette she let me know that I was free to expect the same kind of relationship that able bodied young men did. From the moment we were wed, she showed me that unconditional love was also a freedom I could count on. The moment she stood in that emergency room after the car accident she made it abundantly clear that her dedication was a freedom I could never lose. Throughout my life Kolette has taught me that I’m alway free to love life.

Good Love

Good Love

Good Times

Good Times

Now, Coleman’s innocent eyes seemed to communicate that I’m free to love and be loved in return. Over and over, he reminds me that I’m free to try and, although things may not always work out the way I’d planned, we are free to figure things out on our own. We may not get things on our first try, and when we do get them, it may not always be pretty, but he allows us the freedom to find our own rhythm and our own path.

Good Boy

Good Boy

I know there are others who aren’t as lucky as I. I know that there are many in my situation who simply go home from the hospital and stay there. I know one young man whose family brought him home from the hospital after his diving accident, built him a large bay window, and every day sat him in front of that window. He ended up spending every day of what ended up to be a very short life literally “watching the world go by.”

So on this day of celebrating freedom, I celebrate mine. As I do so, I celebrate the countless numbers of people who have helped me to fight for the freedom I have, and so I celebrate them as well. I celebrate the freedom my future holds.

I celebrate life.

Jh-

Two weeks before my accident

Two weeks before my accident


Declare Your Independence From The Weather

November 13, 2008
If a tree falls on your cottage it definetly makes a sound

If a tree falls on your cottage it definetly makes a sound

I’ll never forget the time Kolette and I spent living in New Canaan, Connecticut. But there are seven special days that stand out above the rest. Kolette and I were living in a little cottage. It had one bedroom, one bath, a living room, a kitchen, and a loft. The bedroom at one time had been some sort of a stall to house animals, and the rest had been built on from there. The older part of the cottage didn’t have any insulation, and so, like the pioneers, we had to hang quilts on the walls to keep the cold air out. It was old and it was tiny and we loved it.

The place just oozed personality. I called it, “The Love Shack” (Kolette thought the title was a bit optimistic). One night, amidst a major storm the cottage was struck by lightning. This incredible surge of energy fried the computer, the expensive laser jet printer, the television, and worst of all my PlayStation. The week before we had spoken about the importance of getting renters insurance, and it was one of those things we’re going to do “tomorrow.” We weren’t making much money and without any coverage we were going to have to pay to replace everything on our own.  I had heard that people were able to live without television and now I was going to find out for myself.

Just a few days later, the youth group from my church was making a trip to Boston. I had some responsibilities with reference to that group, and so I was making the trip as well. But, before I could go I had to get a few things finished. In the middle of running around town checking tasks off my list my car died. Now, it didn’t just die anywhere, it died in the middle of the busiest intersection in town at the busiest time of day. There I sat inside my dead car getting honked at and called names I hadn’t heard since high school.

Finally, a tow truck arrived and hauled my van to local auto shop. The owner of the shop was a family friend and when I explained that I was trying to accompany this youth group to Boston, they put my van at the top of the list. For two straight hours they worked on my van and at the end of those hours the result was the same. The van was dead. With the youth group well on their way to Boston, the shop owner and I agreed that there was nothing left to do. They would start back up on the car on Monday and I would head home.

Heading home brought it’s own set of challenges. Because of my chair I couldn’t exactly hop in the courtesy vehicle, so I drove the two miles home in my wheelchair. By the time it was dark, I pulled up to the front door of the cottage

I spent Saturday puttering around my TV-less cottage hoping that fixing the van wouldn’t take too long or add too much to the already mounting bills. On Saturday night, Kolette and I discussed whether or not I should attempt going to church.

If I were to go to church it would mean getting up pretty early in the morning. Services began at nine, and for me to make the journey from our cottage to the chapel would take an hour or so at best. We figured that the way the past few days were going we could use all the blessings we could get. So, we decided church was in. I got up early that morning, dressed for church, and headed out on my own.  The journey was long enough that it was most likely going to take all the juice my batteries could carry.  Therefore, Kolette would follow later bringing the battery charger so I could charge up during services which would give me enough power to get home.

On my way to church one of the streets I took was fairly steep and had a sharp curve. As I began down the road for some reason the power in my chair gave out for just a second.  This break in the power forced my body hard against the back of the chair and then through my torso forward towards my legs. Being a quadriplegic I don’t have control over my trunk, and so when I fall I can’t just use the muscles in my midsection to sit back up.

As I lunged forward, I reached to grab something, anything to keep me from falling out of my chair. I grabbed the joystick. Unfortunately, when I did the power surge was over. With my chest laying on my lap and my hand pushing the joystick forward I began to fly down the road. Both the way that I was laying, and the lack of movement in my arms made it impossible for me to take my hand off of the joystick.

Faster and faster I flew down the street. I tilted my neck just enough to get an idea of where I was heading. To my dismay I saw that I was coming up on the sharp curve in the middle of the road. I had driven up that road in my car many times and knew how difficult it was to see cars coming the other way, let alone a runaway wheelchair. I could  see the whole thing in my mind. Some unsuspecting motorist would make the turn without seeing me and wheelchair parts and people parts would fly in every direction.

Just then, my foot fell off the foot rest. My foot skimmed along the road for a second until my front left tire ran it over. This provided enough force to throw my body from my chair onto the street. I remember knowing that hitting the street was inevitable, but I could choose whether my head or my shoulder took the brunt of the damage. In that split second I chose shoulder.

Laying in the middle of the road I began to yell for help. 8:00 AM is not a real busy time on Sunday morning. Luckily a woman from one of the neighboring houses heard my call. She carefully, pensively, walked up to where I was lying. She asked me if I needed any help. There are few times in a person’s life when they are absolutely positively sure about a thing. This was one of those times. I told her I did need help. She called Kolette who in turn called the ambulance. They took my broken shoulder and I to the emergency room.

The doctor took x-rays, gave me something for the pain, and told me to come back in a week and get my shoulder looked at again. Not quite sure how I was going to get back to the hospital we followed the doctor’s orders and went back to the cottage.

For the next three days all I could do was lay in my bed in pain. I could barely roll from side to side. On my third day home the clouds had turned dark and the wind began to blow. It was in the middle of this little storm that lying in bed I heard one of the loudest crashes of my life. Looking around trying to find what could cause such a noise, I noticed that every window in the cottage was covered with leaves. It looked like “The Love Shack” had been transported to the middle of the Amazon jungle.

Kolette rushed down to my room to see if I was alright. After confirming that I was no worse for wear, she told me that the nearly hundred foot tree that grew next to our cottage had fallen. The roots of the tree had become weak trying to grow too close to a nearby creek causing the tree to fall onto the cottage directly on top of where I laid in bed. I was so grateful that the beams making up our roof had actually held.

Within seven days we had some of the worst luck of our lives. A lightning strike  destroyed every valuable piece of electronics that we owned, my car died, I broke my shoulder, and a tree nearly crushed our cottage.

These things didn’t happen because we were bad. These things didn’t happen because we deserved them. They just happened. Bad things happen to good people. It’s just a fact of life. When they do we can start running around asking, “why me?”

Isn’t it interesting how we never ask, “why me?” when good things happen. We never wonder why we got that promotion, why we have good kids, or why we were blessed with good health.  What then gives us the right to start asking these questions when things don’t go our way.

We need to “Declare our independence from the weather.” We need to make a conscious decision to have a good attitude regardless of our circumstance. We need to live the way we want independent of the good or bad that comes into our lives. We need to be happy in the sun and in the rain, find joy whether it’s beautiful or bleak. We need to stop letting the forecast dictate our mood.  We need to smile and enjoy the adventure.

Jh-


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