In July of that same year, I had been in the diving accident that caused me to become a quadriplegic. After I was life-flighted to the nearest hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado, the doctors diagnosed my injury. The damage was severe and permanent. I had broken my neck and was paralyzed from the chest down. I lost complete control of my legs and partial control of my arms. I could no longer walk or stand, I could barely breathe or speak.
I remember the first night I was in the hospital. I was so scared. I had what seemed to be a thousand doctors and nurses who would come and examine me and then go into the corner and talk about their findings in private. They took X-rays, gave me shots, put me in traction, brought in waivers to be signed, and attempted to explain my injury to me. All this, while I came in and out of consciousness.
A few days later, while I was getting my daily medication, I pulled my nurse aside. I told her that although I was aware that my injury was going to require a long hospital stay, I needed to know how long; I needed to know when I could go home.
The nurse turned to me solemnly and said, “Well, Jason, if you work hard, maybe you’ll get to go home before Christmas.”
Christmas! I thought. You’ve got to be kidding! That’s six months from now! I can’t stay here for six months! Besides, what’s this maybe stuff? I’ve got to be home for Christmas.
It was then I decided that no matter what the cost, I would be home for Christmas. Little did I know that achieving this goal would mean hours and hours of therapy and days and days of work.
The months that followed were filled with sweat, blood, and tears. I sweat during physical therapy where I spent days trying to lift an ounce and weeks trying to sit up again. I bled when I was given a tracheotomy to help me breathe, and traction to support my neck. And I cried myself to sleep, wondering if I would live through the night. The only thing that made it all worth it was that I was working for something. I was working to go home. All I wanted was to go home, and I knew that the only way to get there was to get well.
There were many times I wanted to give up, days when I just didn’t think I could lift another weight, or even have the strength to push myself back to my room. Frustrated, I would convince myself that the task was too difficult, that I couldn’t work anymore, and that it was impossible anyway. I would think about all of the hours that I had yet to work, and how badly my body ached now. I would be discouraged that the progress seemed slow and the routine repetitious. I looked around me, and it didn’t seem that anyone else was all riled up about getting out, and so I wondered what I was all excited about. But then, I would think of home.
I would think of the smell of my mom’s kitchen, I would think of the family in stitches laughing around the dinner table. I would think of the live nativity my dad would have us put on each Christmas Eve (my sister is the one girl amidst four boys so she had a long run as Mary). I would think about my family kneeling in prayer around the couch downstairs.
This remembering would give me the motivation, strength and power to continue to work, and somehow I would find the fortitude to fight another day in my quest to go home.
Finally, the day came when the nurse let me know that my hard work had paid off and I would be to return home earlier than expected. On October 17, 1986 I was discharged. I would be home for Christmas.
In many ways, that Christmas was like any other Christmas. My little brothers woke up at 4:30 a.m. to see if Santa had come yet. When they found that he had, they waited outside of my parents’ room anticipating the glorious time when Mom and Dad would say it was okay to open the gifts. Finally, the go-ahead was given. The boys scrambled downstairs to the tree. The boys got their action figures, my sister got clothes, and I received the stereo I had hoped for. With the festivities over, my Dad took a moment to gather us all together.
He began to talk about the importance of Christmas while we sat amidst the piles of wrapping paper and boxes. We were more concerned with the spoils of the day than what Dad was talking about, until he asked each child to take a minute to talk about the favorite gift they had received that day.
The frivolity that once filled the room was instantly replaced with a quiet somberness. As Dad went around to my brothers and sister, each of them, who had earlier been so concerned with their physical gifts, answered with the same response. They said, “My favorite present is to have Jason home again.”
With tears in my eyes, I had to agree. It felt great to be home.
As Christmas approaches our thoughts turn to many things. But, whether Yuletide spirit makes you think of Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or carolers, hot cider, or Christmas trees, Santa, or the Christmas ham, everyone thinks of gifts.
We think of the gifts we’d like to receive. We think of the gifts we like to give. We think of the crazy “White Elephants” we need to pick up for the office or neighborhood parties. We think of how we’re ever going to be able to help Santa cross off the gifts that found its way onto the letter our children sent him this year.
Through all of that it is easy to forget those gifts that matter most. It’s easy to forget about the value of friendship. It’s easy to forget about the blessings of family. It’s easy to forget how wonderful it is to have a job. It’s easy to forget the magic of love.
Let’s then decide that this holiday will be different. Let’s decide that as the countdown to the 25th begins we won’t just worry, stress, and be frustrated about the gifts we may not be able to provide or receive. Let’s decide to take a different tack and help ourselves and others realize the power of the simple gifts in our lives; the gifts that matter most. The gift of love, the gift of life, and the gift of home.
List a simple gift you want to concentrate on this season.