I Can Do Anything For 80 Years

October 22, 2009

Hospital Traction 1st Acc._2

I have been taught the importance of being positive from the youngest days of my life.  I don’t remember a time when having a PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) wasn’t a regular part my parents instruction on the proper way to live a life.

Therefore, growing up, I tried to make a positive outlook a part of my life.  I tried to look at the glass half full, tried to see the best in those around me and tried to concentrate on the good and forget the bad.

Then at fifteen and a half, on the 13th of July 1986 my life changed in a second.

I went from a completely healthy young man in the best shape of my life to paralyzed from the chest down with only partial use of my arms and no use of my hands.

As difficult as that transition was, it was the first nights that were the most harrowing.  My lungs filled with mucus to the point where you could barely see any clear part of my lung on the x-ray.  My pulmonologist told me it was the worst case of pneumonia he had ever seen.

You didn’t have to have a medical degree to understand that my life was in the balance.  In those days, I had one wish.  It wasn’t to walk, it wasn’t to be accepted back at home, and it wasn’t to have a normal life-It was to live.

All I wanted was to wake up the next morning.

After a few days when I began to feel, not quite out of the woods, but on my way there, my dad came to the side of my bed and asked me if I felt like I could deal with life as a quadriplegic, I replied, “I can do anything for 80 years.” I was so grateful that I’d kept my life—everything seemed better.  Even paralysis seemed doable.

In the days since then, I’ve almost lost my life at least one other time.  And in those days, good or bad, I’ve tried to recall  that same feeling.  Whenever life gets difficult (as it often does) I try to remember that no matter how bad it gets, I still have my life.

Knowing that I am still breathing makes everything else challenging small in comparison.  It makes a real difference in my effort to live a happy life.  It is difficult to complain about the stumbling blocks when you find a way to remember that you are still around to stumble.

When things get hard, remember to love life.  Be grateful that you are still here.  Be glad that you have a chance to struggle and the negativity will be replaced with that Positive Mental Attitude I was taught so much about in my youth


Just A Way To Travel Down The Road

December 16, 2008


You pick anyone on any street anywhere in the world and you’ll find there are things that they want that they cannot yet acquire. Each of us has wants. Everyone of us has things we wish that we had that we don’t have now. It may be a bigger house, or a nicer car. It might be new clothes or the latest gadget. No matter how old we get each of us could put together a list for Santa. We usually don’t, but it’s not because there aren’t things that we don’t wish for. It’s because we know the total in Santa’s bank account.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting things that we don’t have as long as we don’t allow those wants to get in the way of our happiness today. So often I hear people talk about the things that they want and how they are connected to their ability to be happy. They’ll say things like, “If I just had a bigger house, then I could be happy,” or, “If I just had a nicer car, then I could be happy.” Whether it’s a house or car, a higher income or vacation people seem to qualify their wants with the fact that receiving them would make them happy.

It’s always amazing to me. “Then… I could be happy,” they say. As if the only thing standing in the way between them and a happy life is the acquisition of a want.

Unfortunately, almost without exception when people do finally acquire the bigger house, nicer car, higher income, or vacation the only thing that follows is not happiness but additional wants. If the bigger house becomes theirs then they began to talk about how something else on their list will “then make them happy.”

The reality is that happiness doesn’t come with things. It’s not something you achieve at all. There are people in the world who spend their whole lives chasing those things that they believe will make them happy and end their lives never acquiring the joy they pursued all their days.

I remember when I learned this lesson myself. I was 16 years old and barely home from the hospital after my diving accident. I was working hard to find a way to live my life in a wheelchair. There were so many days when all I thought about was walking. I was sure that if I could walk again, then I could be happy.

As each new morning would come I found myself still paralyzed and in a wheelchair. It was more difficult to be happy always concentrating on this want. One day I made the decision that with all my heart I would hope to walk tomorrow. But as for today I would be happy in a wheelchair.

Twenty-three years later I still hope to walk tomorrow but today, I am happy. Had I not adopted this frame of mind I would have spent the past two decades wishing every day that I could walk–waiting for that day to come to finally be happy.

So too it is with everyone. There’s nothing wrong with wishing. There’s nothing wrong with wanting. The problem comes when those wishes and wants dictate our daily happiness.

Happiness is not so much a place we will ever reach as much as it is a way that we travel through our lives–a highway of experiences and moments. If we think about joy as an interstate for life’s journey we have to watch for the on ramps. Just like trying to get on our local freeway on ramps are the key.

The on ramps in our lives are those things that bring us happiness in the moment. A child’s smile may be an on-ramp. Remembering the kind deed from a friend may be an on-ramp. A little service may be an on-ramp. Each of us has different things that allow us to merge into the traffic of contentment and joy.

But, if we don’t watch for our “on ramps” will never find our way. Each of us must look around our lives and find those things that bring simple happiness and remind us to travel meaningfully through each day.

Joy comes in the journey and happiness is not a destination, it’s just a way to travel down the road.


Remember that the DVD contest closes Tuesday, December 16 at 9 PM PST. If you’re interested in winning one of my autograph DVDs follow this link and go to my previous post and leave a comment.

Also, if you’re a blogger check out alphainventions.com to increase your traffic.

Celebrate Life

November 21, 2008
November 1997

November 1997

At this very moment 11 years ago I was in the intensive care unit at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center fighting for my life. On November 21, 1997 at 10:45 in the morning I was traveling down the interstate thinking of the appointment I had at 11:00 and listening to local sports radio. It was a regular drive on a regular day.

Just then I heard what sounded like a shotgun going off in my left ear. It was my front left tire exploding. My handicap accessible van traveled across the three lanes of traffic heading southbound, went through the median, and into the oncoming traffic. The next thing I knew I was waking up to the voice of an EMT. I was obviously dazed and confused as to why I was looking up at the clear blue sky.

As I looked around I saw my van’s radio antenna. I remember thinking to myself that that was odd being that my antenna was on the passenger side of the car. There I was lying half in and half out of the passenger side of my van. Scared, frightened, and afraid that further neurological damage had been done I came in and out of consciousness while the emergency workers used the “Jaws of Life” to get me on a gurney and into the ambulance.

I was rushed to the ER where Kolette met me. I’ll never forget watching her enter the room unsure of what her response to this possibly fatal injury would be. It was then when I experienced one of the sweetest moments of my life. When Kolette first saw me her face turned white and she looked as though her knees were going to buckle. Then, in vintage Kolette style-she stood up straight and gained her bearings. She walked over to me and put her arms around me as best she could while whispering in my ear, “We’re going to be okay.” It is difficult for me to express in words what that quiet vote of confidence from the mouth of the woman I loved with all my heart meant to me.

After things were stabilized in the emergency room I was rushed off to seven hours of surgery. The weeks that followed were harrowing at best. On one of the very first days the doctors pulled my family aside and told them that if they wanted to say goodbye to me they’d better do it immediately. As my family tried to understand what my odds were really were, the doctors told them I wouldn’t live through the night.

Luckily, doctors aren’t always as smart as they think they are. I made it through that night, and through the nights that followed. My situation was serious enough however, that I was hospitalized for a full 13 months.

When I broke my neck in a diving accident at 15, I was in the hospital for three months. At that time I was convinced I could never do another day in the hospital. Thirteen months seemed an eternity.  But, the damage was that serious and extensive.

I will never forget 12 months later, November 21, 1998. I was still in the hospital and all I could think about on that day was how much my life had changed the year before. It reminded me of July 13, 1986, one year after my diving accident. As that day approached I had to make a decision. I had to decide if I would spend that day wallowing in self-pity, thinking of all the bad that happened, or if I would concentrate on the improvement I had made over the previous 12 months. I had to decide if I would put my energy and time into thinking about how I had become a quadriplegic, or if I would concentrate on the fact that I was still alive.

I chose to celebrate. On July 13, 1987 one year after my diving accident I invited all of my friends over my house and we had a party. We celebrated my “anniversary.” We celebrated life.

Following suit, on the first “anniversary” of my car accident I did the same–I celebrated. Kolette and I had some friends up to my hospital room and we had a party, being joyful about the life I still had to lead, about the gift simple existence was.

In every year that has followed, July 13 at November 21 are days that I celebrate. Every member of my family takes a moment to call me on the phone and congratulate me. Kolette and I always go out and do something special.

So today on my “anniversary” I invite you to join me. I invite you to take a moment and leave a comment telling me of something that is good in your life. I will give away one of my DVD’s to the winner (I’ll even autograph it). It will be your “anniversary” present to me.

Join me in focusing on all the pleasure you get and forgetting the pain.  Join me in realizing the blessing every minute in every day is. Join me and celebrate life.



Sunday Driving

October 31, 2008

Growing up, Sunday meant church, family time, a roast with potatoes and carrots for dinner, and every once in awhile, a Sunday drive. On those Sundays when my parents felt so inclined, they would load my three brothers and one sister into the family station wagon and we would go Sunday driving (it was the 70s, so everyone had station wagons, ours was green with wood paneling).

I grew up in Boise, Idaho. Both my mom and dad also grew up in Boise. This meant that the drives on Sunday were usually a drive down memory lane. They would point out the schools they attended, the homes they used to live in, the playgrounds where they used to play, and any other little piece of nostalgia that came up along the way. As a 10-year-old boy the stop I hated above all else was when my dad would pull the car to the side of the road, point out a specific lamp post and say, “Kids, this is where I used to kiss your mother.” At that point in my life, girls were something to be chased at recess but never kissed. Although I knew my dad had some responsibility to kiss my mom, I really didn’t want to hear about it.

On our Sunday drives my parents were in sheer bliss. As kids, we were in utter misery. We had no idea where we’re going, and cared little about getting there. We were bored and tired and the only thing we really look forward to was getting home. The sooner it was over the better.

Conversely, every summer meant a summer vacation. We couldn’t wait. My dad would throw the same five kids in the same green, wood paneled station wagon and we were filled with vigor and excitement. It didn’t matter if we left at ten at night or four in the morning, we were literally giddy. The whole way we were singing. We would sing the Hall family song, “We are the Halls, the Stephen J. Halls, wherever we go, people want to know, who we are, so we tell ’em,” or some version of, “99 bottles of (milk) on the wall” (Being Mormon, we didn’t sing about beer very often.)

What changed? It was the same kids in the same car. How could we be miserable Sunday driving then ecstatic on our way to our summer vacation. The difference was the destination.

En route to our summer vacation we knew where we were going and were excited to get there. Goals that are specific, written down and measurable help us define the destinations in our lives. They help us know where we are going and motivate us to be excited to get their. When we have goals that we have set up properly, keeping ourselves accountable all the way, we not only become driven but we allow that drive to take us all the way to our dreams.

Then, with goals clearly set and destination known we find ourselves excited even giddy about every day. Regardless of our start or how far we have to go we are filled with vigor and joy, singing all the way.


Wake-Up Call

October 6, 2008

In my work, I am required to do a lot of travel. I must say it sounds a lot “sexier” than it is. Mostly, it’s arriving late the night before an event and departing late the day after, and usually little more than airport-hotel-airport.

On one such arrival, after I had gone through the process of checking in, I was so tired I was aching for bed.  The hotel was a small hotel, and it was obvious that the gentleman at the front desk did everything from check-in to setting out the morning bagels, so I decided to ask for my wake-up call right there.

He agreed to my request, and as he began to get my information, he remarked how the hotel doesn’t get as many wake-up calls as they used to, and that people seem to prefer the alarm on their cell phone instead. As I thought about it, the same seemed true in my own experience. All the people I traveled with from my wife to my siblings to my aides preferred using the alarm on their mobile phone. I looked back at the attendant, who was quietly waiting seeming to hope that this information had caused me to change my mind and lighten his workload.  I told him that his information was interesting and, although he was probably right, I still wanted my wake-up call.

I like wake-up calls. They are my security blanket. I too use my cell phone’s alarm, but I always set a wake-up call to go off about 10 minutes after my alarm, just in case. That way, I can go to sleep knowing that I won’t wake up late due to some mistake I made or phone failure. Wake-up calls help me make sure I don’t sleep through the important things I can’t afford to miss. When I think the wake-up calls, I can’t help but remember a Saturday morning when one changed my life.

On this particular Saturday morning, I’ve been asked to speak to a group of children about how we are all different, and whether we have red hair or we don’t, are in a wheelchair or we aren’t, everyone is “O.K.”  As I got ready early that morning for the event it was obvious that it was going to be one of “those” days when everything seems to turn out far from “O.K.”

I failed at nearly everything I tried to do that morning, and the things I didn’t fail at still turned out badly.  My pants were all askew, I’d gotten toothpaste on my tie, breakfast turned out lousy, and on my way to the event I realized I had left the directions on my kitchen table. It was most assuredly a day where it didn’t feel like it was okay to be in a wheelchair, when it definitely did not feel okay to be “different”, and the last thing I wanted to was to go try and convince an hundred kids that it was.

But it was too late to cancel so I went. I remember thinking this was the last thing I needed that morning and hoped that I could just get in, get out, and move on.

Upon arrival, I introduced myself to the woman who had scheduled me for the event.   She proceeded to tell me they had brought three other individuals with disabilities to speak as well, so, instead of speaking to all kids at once, they were going to divide the children into four groups and rotate them through.

“Great,” I thought, “now I don’t just have to talk about how I have a great life in a wheelchair once, I’d have to do it four times.” This just quadrupled the amount of time I was going to have to be there that morning.

The meeting began with all of us in the same room. The children were given instructions and just before they were set loose, the woman in charge of the event had all of the children sing, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” reminding everyone there about what a wonderful thing the body was. I wasn’t sure I agreed, but I knew the song and so I sang with everyone else.

As I began to sing, out of the corner of my eye I noticed one of the other speakers with a disability. He too was in a wheelchair, and from the way he sat in his chair, it seemed our disabilities were very similar. But what wasn’t similar, was the way he was throwing his arms all about. For the life of me, I could not figure out why a grown man would move around in such a way in public during the song. I remember thinking that he looked like he was conducting the music. The only problem was, he wasn’t facing the children, and that was definitely different.

Just as the next sarcastic remark began to form in my mind it hit me. He was deaf. Like me, he couldn’t move his hands and so he had had to come up with his own sign language. That was why his arms were moving about so. And what’s more, he was doing it all with a smile on his face.

Talk about a wake-up call. All of a sudden all those things that frustrated me so much that morning didn’t seem so big. In fact, they seemed quite small-petty even. He had so much less than I and yet his attitude was so much better. I never even spoke to the man and yet he taught me a lesson that I will never forget, and because of my poor attitude I nearly missed it. It is easy to get lulled to sleep in our lives, and if we stay that way we will miss the many lessons those great people around us have to teach.

We have to wake up and listen to the lives of those around us and let them teach us to be better the way this man taught me. Then, fully awake and fully aware each day a new person will teach us a new way to live happier. If we will look, we can find examples in books, on television, in our neighborhoods, and on our streets. And if we will see, we will learn to live with more gratitude and grace instead of complacency and complaint.

We need wake-up calls. They help us make sure we don’t sleep through the important things we can’t afford to miss.


Wet Pants or Dry Shirt?

September 24, 2008

On a regular, average summer afternoon in my youth I was sitting in the kitchen watching my youngest brother play with his friends in the backyard as my mother cleaned up the mess from lunch.  The kids fun came to its inevitable lull, the friends went home and my brother came in the house.  As soon as he opened the back door it was obvious that there was a problem.  He had wet his pants.

He was old enough that this was something my mom believed to be behind them.  I could tell by the look on my brothers face that he knew wetting his pants was going to bring him some grief.  He sheepishly looked up and his innocent eyes met my mothers understandably furious gaze.

“Nathan, you wet your pants!” she exclaimed.

“Yeah,” he replied, “but, I didn’t wet my shirt.”

My mom tried hard to remain stern, but the laughter took over.  Nathan and I followed suit and began to laugh, I looked closely and realized he was right.  Although his pants were soaked his shirt was bone dry.

Nathan was under no misconceptions about what happened. He had in fact wet his pants, and this was something, “bad.” It wasn’t the right thing, or a good thing, or a thing that even remotely had any positive ramifications. But, it had happened, and now he had to make a decision — to concentrate on the bad or to see the good.

Often in our lives were presented with the same opportunity. To decide whether to see the bad or emphasize the good. Seeing the bad is definitely easier, and requires very little effort. There is bad everywhere in everyone’s life, and it gets all kinds of publicity. All you have to do is watch the news, read the paper, or listen to the daily gossip to see it.   There are bad people making poor decisions that bring with them bad consequences. There are also good people making good decisions that bring unfortunate consequences. Bad things happen, it’s just a fact of life.

However, if we choose to we can, like Nathan, see the good. But, it will take considerably more effort. It doesn’t get the press the bad does, maybe a few minutes at the end of the nightly news,  or a few lines in the paper. But it’s there, it ‘s everywhere.  If you’ll look, you’ll see it as someone lets you merge on the freeway, or a neighbor stops to help you fix your car.   It’s evident in every kind word or simple deed that comes unasked from one person to another. It’s just as evident and prevalent as the bad for those who make the conscious decision to see it.

We then, each day get to choose.  Which will it be, which will we see. This decision will be paramount in deciding what kind of day you have. If you choose to concentrate on the, “Wet Pants” you’ll see them and have a bad day. But, if you’ll exert just little extra energy you’ll find the, “Dry Shirts” and have good day after good day.

So, “Wet Pants or Dry Shirt.”