I haven’t been through anything. Sure, compared to most of my able-bodied readers, I suppose I’ve been through something. I have great strength and a positive attitude. I’m inspirational and blah, blah, blah. But I’m here to tell you, I haven’t been through anything.
I recently spent a Saturday afternoon at an adaptive horseback riding event put on by Brooks Adaptive Sports and Recreation Program and Haven Horse Ranch. I thought I was going to write a post about therapeutic horseback riding. As usual, all attempts to plan out or corral my writing have failed, and my storytelling takes a shape different than the one I expected.
My companions that day were two women I had met only recently. One woman had been in a car accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. The other has MS. She walked with crutches for short distances and was in a wheelchair the rest of the time. Those are the short, simple versions of their stories.
In reality, they’d both seen more than their share of tragedy. One woman’s husband had died, the other’s had split. They were both single mothers left to finish raising five children between them. And after all the bumbling doctors, misdiagnoses and health insurance nightmares these two managed to have quick smiles and good natures.
Sure, I’m happy. But I’m not grieving. I don’t have anyone to blame. My disability just — happened. Disappointment and heartache haven’t been poured on besides. Imagine having part of your insurance settlement signed out from under you while you were in a coma and then try living without bitter resentment every day.
My new friends are brave in small ways too. After the horseback riding, some people headed to Cracker Barrel. My brain immediately got caught up in logistics. How will three women in wheelchairs get out of and back into a car? How will we get in the restaurant? Through that crowded little store? To the restroom? While I was busy planning, they were busy doing — asking for help where we needed it. And I realized, I could use a little more “jump in and go” mentality and worry a little less about what people think.
I’m reminded, once again, how important it is to belong to this group. Usually, I’m the only person in a wheelchair. Here, I’m one of many. Eating with able-bodied folks, I’m conscious of what I can’t do, of poor table manners and food on my face. At this table though, everyone’s got their own problems. I’m freer to be me. And if that means spooning my eggs out of a bowl, so be it.
When it comes time for dessert, I’m eyeing the chocolate pecan pie. The three of us consult the menus. “You know,” our driver says, “it’s cheaper to buy the whole pie.” Ah, women after my own heart. When the pie comes, I’m asked how large a slice. I motion for a bigger piece. I’ll take mine with a side of courage, please.