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Amy F. Quincy Author/Freelance Writer

Month

June 2011

Feeling stressed? Walk a dog!

I admit to feeling a little frazzled lately.  You see, my mother was recently released from the hospital.  Since I have a variety of handicaps, the majority of the caregiving burden fell, and is still falling, to a good friend of hers.  This doesn’t mean I get off scott free.  There’s still family and friends to update, finances to figure, and plenty of general worry left to go around.  Not to mention, the full-time care of a particular white devil named Frankie.

I’ve always defined myself as a cat person.  Cats seem to fit seamlessly into the writer’s lifestyle.  Dogs?  Not so much.  I’m no sooner pecking away at the keyboard than I hear a loud crash in the other room and wheel in to find Frankie standing on top of a table, surrounded by scattered picture frames.  Cats will let you be when you’re on a roll.  Dogs need constant attention.  Dogs need to go out.

In fact, I’ve found that the amount of havoc The White Devil wreaks is inversely proportional to the amount of exercise he gets.  I know we need the rain, but a rainy day for me is, well … hell.  Weather permitting, chances are, Frankie’s out for a walk.

And as a reluctant dog owner, no I’ll call myself a dog guardian, I can tell you the benefits are many.  There seem to be few problems a brisk walk around the block with a four-legged friend will not solve.

First, it’s virtually impossible to keep your mind on your problems.  There are other dogs and owners to greet, meetings to supervise, and optimal bathroom locations to scout out.  If your dog is especially popular, the meet and greet portions can go on indefinitely.  Sometimes I think Frankie is running for mayor of my small beach town.  It particularly amuses me when he knows someone that I do not.  This happens a lot, as he is my mother’s dog and frequently goes places with her instead of me: on walks, to the groomer’s, doggie daycare.  Several times, we’ve passed people that wave and call out, “Hi Frankie!”  And I don’t have a clue who they are.

Stress-free Frankie
Our View

There’s also the benefit of communing with nature.  I realize not everyone is lucky enough to have a view of the Atlantic as part of their daily stroll, but nature can be found in even the most suburban of gated communities.  There’s dew on the grass of those manicured lawns and the warm pink glow of a sunset is beautiful in any neighborhood.

And hey, let’s face it.  You just can’t rush a good … poop.  If you are trying to hurry home to your list of a million things to do — forget it.  It takes what it takes.  You might as well surrender to it and enjoy your moment of peace.  If Frankie could read, (and talk!) I’m sure he’d ask for a newspaper.  After all, there are some mysterious inner workings at play here.  It’s an intricate process, one whose steps cannot be skipped.  I’ve watched and waited while Frankie does so many circles, I’m sure he must be dizzy.  When he finally goes, inside I’m dancing a jig.

Lastly, there’s the benefit of all this exercise.  To you.  Personally, I miss out on this one, with my power chair on high and Frankie trotting along beside me, but everyone knows how physical exercise reduces stress.  So, pick up the pace!  Unless your dog is doing circles.  In which case, slow it down and think zen.

Perfectly Imperfect

Killian McDonnell’s poem “Perfection, Perfection starts out, “I have had it with perfection.  I have packed my bags,  I’m out of here.  Gone.”  It ends, “Hints I could have taken: Even the perfect chiseled form of Michelangelo’s radiant David squints, the Venus De Milo has no arms, the Liberty Bell is cracked.”

I love that.  And it’s a good lesson.  I’ve known perfectionists, myself included, who agonize over each word, each comma, each turn of phrase.  I know a writer who tinkers with her work until she worries she’s tinkered the clever right out of it.  I know an artist who’d prefer to hang her paintings herself lest they not receive proper placement for optimal appreciation.  I, myself, read my words over so many times that I know them by heart.  It’s an illness, this perfectionism.  I think about that sculptor laying awake at night fretting over the Venus De Milo’s arms.  Maybe their shape wasn’t coming out quite right.  And those sleepless nights.  What were they all for?

I give you the serenity prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.  A very wise woman (my mother) once asked me “why worry about what you can’t control?”  If I may put it into my own words: do your best work (like the sculptor,) but then let it go.  Don’t lose sleep over it.  The arms may fall off anyway.  It’s probably still a masterpiece.

The Kindness of Strangers

“How many people are here?” Ed asked me.

“I don’t know,” I replied.  “A hundred?”

It was almost three times that.  You would think the smoke that hung thick in the air that day would have discouraged some, but it was a large turnout for the Life Rolls On “They Will Surf Again” event in Jacksonville Beach, June 4th.

I saw the advantage of owning my own beach wheelchair right away, but other beach chairs were on hand at the lifeguard station to ferry people over the soft sand or into the water.  Some folks braved the sand in their regular wheelchairs.  Ed pushed my chair down by the water to wait my turn at “surfing.”  He was a friend of my friend, Amy, and I’d just met him, but he had volunteered his truck to tote my dune buggy of a beach chair to the event.

I’d done this once before (this was Life Rolls On’s fifth year in Jacksonville,) but I was struck again at the large number of volunteers.  There were 12 able-bodied volunteers for every disabled surfer.  When it came my turn, I understood why.  It took six or seven people just to get me out to where the waves were breaking, then shove me off in time to catch one.  And volunteers were lined up all the way to the shore to grab me wherever I happened to fall off.

Friends (clockwise) Ed, Kathy, Me and Amy. Photo by Sharon Daniel

A subsidiary of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, Life Rolls On originally started the “They Will Surf Again” program for people affected by spinal cord injury.  The number of participating disabilities has grown to include brain injuries, amputees, varied birth defects and others.

After about my third ride to shore and face full of salt water, I remembered overhearing someone talk about surfing on their knees.  Anxious to avoid the stinging spray from my position lying down on the board, I asked if I could try sitting up.  This meant a volunteer would ride tandem.  This video is the first of two rides I made like that.  Now that I know it’s an option, I’m certain there will be many more.  My own hooting and hollering was drowned out by that of the volunteers.

I was touched by the enthusiasm, positive attitude and smiling face of each person who assisted that day.  I’m not sure who got more out of the experience, the surfers or all those willing to lend a helping hand.

If you’ve followed my blog you know I like to say “disability has its perks.”  Here’s another one: being disabled allows me to see the good in people.  I’m in the unique position of seeing people at their best.  I am reminded of the generosity of the human spirit almost every day when someone holds open a door, untangles Frankie’s leash or waits for me to slowly cross the road  in my power chair.  And it’s a good thing too, because with a little help, life does indeed, roll on.

Lanes 29 and 30: Intro to Adaptive Bowling

I don’t feel like going.  I have homebody tendencies that have only increased since becoming disabled.  I wasn’t crazy about social situations before, but at least I fit in.  Now I’m in a wheelchair, don’t like eating around groups because I’ll shake and be lucky to hit my mouth, and have to drink through a straw.  I always had beer at the bowling alley.  And I ask you, what’s bowling without beer?

But, I go for several reasons.  I’ve met many nice people in the program (Brooks Adaptive Sports and Recreation Program) that I want to see.  And my mother has drilled this concept of “socialization” into my head.  I should connect with my peers.  In other words, it’s important to have disabled, as well as able-bodied, friends.

It’s always interesting, being part of this group.  I’ve done things I never imagined doing again.  I’ve played pool, ridden horseback, and rowed the St. John’s River. None of them well, but still.   I can’t fathom how I will bowl when I picture my old long-legged approach.  But to think technique is to miss the point.

The last two lanes closest to the ramp that lead to the polished wood floors belong to our motley crew.  Nearly all of us are in wheelchairs.  Some of us, like me, take erratic swings in the lane with the “gutter guards,” those rails that keep the ball traveling toward the pins.  Some of us chuck the ball down the lane with a loud crash.  Some of us, lacking grip, use metal ball ramps to release the ball.  All of us begin at the foul line.

It would be far easier to stay in than worry about if there will be steps, or if I can eat something there, or how silly my beer will look with a straw sticking out of it.  But, if I only surrounded myself with able-bodied people, I’d never measure up.  I’d always see things in terms of what I couldn’t do, instead of what I could.  I’d stay home and play hostess to my own one woman pity party.

As I am leaving someone uses a phone to look up my new website and reads about what happened to me.  He is an amputee.  “How sad,” he says.  “I’m sorry.”  I am momentarily taken aback.  No one disabled has ever said this to me.  And then I realize.  Maybe I make him feel grateful.

Remember, there is always someone worse off than you.  Today, do something that keeps you grateful.

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