As many of you know, our friends, Bruce and Shelly, were in a serious automobile accident in October. I think some of the most devastating words I have ever heard uttered were from the spinal surgeon who said to Shelly, "As of this moment, your husband is paraplegic." As I held my arm tight around Shelly, I felt my own heart sink to my feet.
Paraplegic, what does that mean? The thought was overwhelming. It was as if our whole world had suddenly gone dark. As we huddled together in that waiting room while Bruce went through emergency spinal surgery, each of us dealt with the demon of wondering what this would mean to, not only Bruce's future, but to ours in our relationship to him.
Of course, Shelly was confronted by the thought that her life was changed forever. His daughters were wondering how he would deal with this change in his life. His sister, oh how her heart must have been breaking for her precious brother. And Jim and I, how could we be the friends he would need.
Four months later we are rejoicing in the fact that, number one, Bruce's spinal cord was not severed in the accident; he is recovering and has been told that in the next month he will probably go home....walking. Perhaps with the aid of a walker, but nevertheless, walking.
Everyone involved in this scenario sees Bruce's recovery as a miracle. We are all rejoicing in this good news. Which bring me to where I am today.
Our daughter, Gretchen, who has a bachelor's degree in Dance Performance, has gone back to school to get an Outdoor Recreation degree. At 34, with a dance injury, she has found her niche in dealing with children and teens in summer camps. As part of this degree she is taking a class in diversity in leisure. Today, she had to spend the day in a wheel chair.
She asked her dad and I if we would like to spend the day with her. Although she was determined to do this on her own, she felt the need to have a little support nearby. We met her and Brian at a shopping, dining, outdoor park for coffee this morning. I guess I wasn't prepared for seeing my beautiful daughter sitting in a wheelchair. Even though I knew that this was just a simulation, it gave me pause to see her sitting there.
As we shopped, had lunch and went to the movies, all the time Gretchen in that chair, I kept thinking, "This is Gretchen. She is the same, wonderful, cheerful, talented young woman she has always been. This chair doesn't change anything." And yet, I also wondered what the saleswoman in Pottery Barn thought a Gretchen told her about how Brian was going to be laying the new flooring in their house as she wasn't about to help him. Or what was going through the mind of the gal in Anthropologie who talked to Gretchen about buying a dress for her brother-in-law's wedding, all while sitting in a wheel chair.
The most poignant moment of the day came when Gretchen rolled into the movie theater and the ticket taker was in a wheel chair. I could just feel the affinity between the two. At that moment, it was all I could do not to break down in tears.
As I watched Gretchen cheerfully rolling around The District I kept thinking that at the end of the day she would fold up the chair and return it to campus while there are millions of young people all over the world who are tied to that chair for life.
I think I've been changed today, by this experience, but I'm still not sure how. I know I will view people with disabilities with more respect, and less pity.