It sucks being a quadriplegic.
It's terrible not being able to stand, to walk, to run. To go for a hike in the woods. To walk down the stadium steps and be a part of the home team.
I hate being the reason your plane or bus is late. Trust me, I feel awful about that. I miss stretching my legs after a hard day, or dancing at a wedding (badly).
Most of all, I hate how restricted the world feels. I miss celebrations because I can't get to the second floor of a bar. I have to meet my friends’ new baby on the front lawn because I can't get into their house. Without my legs, the world feels like a series of obstacles and barriers. It makes me feel like I can't be a part of regular life. It's isolating.
Not being able to use your hands is even worse. I would be happy to never walk again if I could have my hands back—just to open the door, to crack my knuckles, to scratch my dog and make her leg kick. To give you the bird when you cut me off in traffic.
To be able to hold my wife. I never realized how appropriate it is that we use the word feel for both emotion and sensation until I lost it. It sometimes feels like I am numb to the world around me.
I miss cooking and mowing the lawn. I miss being bad at golf and worse at basketball. I miss nature, off-the-trail nature. I miss driving. I miss rolling down windows and fiddling with radio dials.
I'll never get to ride a motorcycle again. I will never have the chance to ride down Highway 1 towards Big Sur in open air again, the Pacific stretching out to my side, watching the sunset. I won't ever make new memories like that. When you become disabled later in life your memories torment you. They taunt you. Beauty in life is experiential. When you're disabled, it's hard not to see only ugliness in the world.
When I was in rehabilitation, local news ran a story about a quadriplegic who killed himself. Late one evening, he drove his power wheelchair into the lake and it dragged him under. Watching, I started to cry. I was terrified. Was it really so bleak for people like me? Was there really so little hope?
I understand why that poor guy took his life. But, almost three years later, despite all of the pain, I've found new beauty in the world. And I've found goodness in people that I was too cynical to see before my accident.
One Sunday morning my wife and I got up early and went for breakfast around the corner. It had snowed overnight and our walkway was blocked; I didn't know how deep it was and got stuck. My wife pushed but the chair wouldn't budge. We contemplated calling emergency services.
And then someone pulled over to help. Dressed in his Sunday best, he got on his hands and knees, in the dirtiest of the gutter snow, and dug me out. This guy didn't care who I was; he didn't care if I was rich or poor, who I voted for, who I prayed to, or if I prayed at all. He saw that I was in need and helped me without question, much to the detriment of his suit pants.
It was an act of kindness—this act of kindness—that gave me hope for the future. It's hard to live my life, but I'm lucky to have the opportunity to keep living, to be a part of the goodness of this world, to pay forward the kindness I have received. And maybe to stop others in my position from losing hope. To help them see the beauty in this world.
To help them want to live.