As long as six months after my accident, I looked at the freezer, then the cupboards and panicked. I wanted a glass of ice water and lacked the necessary confidence and courage to perform such a straightforward task. My brain swirled with confusion as I attempted to concoct a plan. The mission seemed simple enough, but as with most previously simple undertakings, I froze. I questioned my skill to reach for a glass while sitting in a chair with wheels, transport the glass all the way over to the freezer, reach, again, this time for ice, carry the full glass of ice, and finally, fill it with water. I never fathomed the immense detail that lives in a glass of ice water.
Eventually, after much repetition, I bravely defeated the ice water challenge and, now, as my mom teased the other day, I have glasses of water in every room. Occasionally, a full glass tumbles to the floor and ice and water spill in puddles all around me, but I pick up the glass, clean up the water, and try again.
Over the years, I learned to attempt all of my new challenges with a similar approach. I assess the situation and formulate a plan. The tinge of fear still lingers and I learn to strive for my goal anyway. If the coffee beans are on the top shelf of the grocery store, I collect a hothouse cucumber and a roll of tinfoil to help slide the beans off of the shelf and catch them in the waiting basket that sits on my lap. Butterflies still flutter in my stomach each and every time and that is okay. And when I can’t, just can’t, reach or do something, I learn to gain the courage to ask. None of these things comes without practice and patience.
Practice and patience. Practice and patience permeate my life now. Practice allows me to move ahead with fear because, after all, it’s just practice. And patience allows me to know I won’t always get it right the first time. Both of these build courage and confidence. I used to think courage and confidence were just born in people. Now I know, I must practice courage and confidence and exercise patience when I feel defeated.
Last week, I joined Ashlea and her family for dinner at Ashlea’s house. Her mom came to town for a visit and invited me to join her family for dinner. The usual buzz of conversation and howling of laughter filled the air. Kate, Ashlea’s daughter, pulled out every school paper and drawing she ever created and Jack, Ashlea’s oldest son, gifted his grandma with a necklace that was really a dragon. Apparently, you can’t wear a necklace that is a dragon. We learned this very quickly when his grandma tried to wear the dragon, as a necklace, and Jack’s eyes welled up with tears, because it is a dragon, not a necklace. Amidst all of this beautiful chaos, I asked Ashlea what I could do to help. And she quickly responded, “Hold the baby.”
That I can do. Will, the baby, and I sat in my chair and played. He is teething and I made sure to keep his teething ring in his sore little mouth. After a few minutes, I heard a voice say, Will needs a diaper change. Without any hesitation, I said I will do it, and headed in the other room to change his diaper. Kyle brought in the basket of diaper supplies and I went to work.
I've changed many, many baby diapers. I have the routine down and never really think much about my rhythm. That is, until I had my accident. I was petrified the first time I changed a baby’s diaper after my accident. I religiously checked the brakes on my wheels just in case I slid backwards and pulled the baby to the ground. I held the baby with one hand and noticed my hand was shaking. I worried the entire time if my balance issues would cause me to slip and drag the baby to the ground and then roll over him. The horror film of everything that could go wrong ran on a constant reel in my mind. It was an utter disaster. I swore I would never try to change a baby’s diaper again, for about five minutes. And then I tried again, and again, and again. Each time progressively felt a bit easier, but I still felt the pangs of the what if everything goes wrong fear.
After my accident I was so lost and so confused. I couldn’t even figure out how to get a glass of ice water. I felt like a stranger in a foreign land. Everyone around me was able bodied and seemed to think he or she had all of the answers. Suddenly, everyone knew how I should be doing things in a wheelchair. I felt like a big failure most of the time. And then one day I realized, all of these people handing out advice and you shoulds and don’t do this and don’t do thats were able bodied. They weren’t experts on living life in a wheelchair. I was. I was the only one who knew how to live in this chair. I was the only one who knew how it felt to rely on a chair with wheels. And even though it scared the light right out of me, I was going to have to figure out how to navigate through the dark, all on my own. And then I realized something else, I wasn’t a coward for trying and failing. I wasn’t a failure because I suddenly had to learn how to do things all over again. Yes, I was more vulnerable and exposed than I was comfortable with, but that also, somehow, made me brave. This feeling, of being so new to the world, gave me a sense of courage and confidence I never knew before. Life was a blank slate. I had the chance to start from scratch and learn my lessons my way. And the most wonderful thing about this new chance is that I get to experience new things every single day. Fourteen years later, I still get to plop a baby in my lap and feel the rush of, I did it.
I now live in a world where I just show up, even when it scares me. If I feel a bit of fear, I go ahead and exercise a little practice and patience anyway. I will figure it out someday. My life is now like that cup and that freezer. I may stare for a quite a long time trying to discover how I will navigate through the abyss, but I always, always try to forge may way out of its dark tunnel. And if I don’t make it out, well, I've learned the power of vulnerability. It’s absolutely okay to be all of me. Including the part that just can’t do some things and including the part that exceeds the goal of what she ever thought possible. I may fail, the ice may come crashing to the ground, and the babies may slide a little bit, but I try. I try in my own way, on my own time. I take the aching fear that says, I can’t, and I raise it a little learned courage and confidence and say I can. And every once in a while, I get to say, I did it.