On April 18, 2013, I was involved in a bike accident resulting in a broken neck and a severe spinal cord injury.
The accident left me lying in a hospital bed, unable to move my body below my neck.
Since that time, with excellent medical care, the prayers and emotional support of family and friends and by the grace of God, I have recovered the use of my legs and arms with some limitations.
With the help of a faithful, loving spouse, Charlene, and daily therapy that we do together, I am able to function somewhat regularly.
What have I learned through this experience? I prefer to think about it in terms of some interesting perspectives on life in general that come to mind.
1. Time: Because of forced retirement, for one of the first times in my life I have time on my hands. Due to my profession of teaching, there were always things I could or should be doing (yes, even in the summer). Now I can sit and watch the sunset for an hour without the slightest thought of what else I could be doing with that time. It’s new to wake up in the morning without a list of things I should do that day. There are days when there are things that need attention, but the feeling is totally different from most of my adult life. Fortunately, each day gets filled with activities, most of which I enjoy, and time passes quickly. It raises the question of how many moments in life I missed out on because I failed to take the time to enjoy them or was not fully present in them.
2. Control: When you have a life-changing experience like mine, you realize you aren’t in control of your life as much as you would like to think you are. But probably the more difficult adjustment has been the day-to-day dependence on others for assistance with basic tasks. When you can’t always do what you want when you want to do it, it’s a daily reminder that you no longer have the same kind of control of your life as before. Being dependent on others takes away the illusion of self-sufficiency and makes real the adage that when it comes to serving it is easier to give than receive.
3. Trust: Realizing I did not have as much control over my life as I might have thought gave new meaning to the word “trust.” Lying in a bed in the middle of the night at the rehab hospital in Denver, my mind filled with anxious thoughts about the futur . The Spirit of God spoke into my head the words, “Things will be all right.” Choosing to release my anxious thoughts and control of the future, I have not lain awake since with such anxiety. Shortly after returning home to Tucson, we sang in the morning worship service at Shalom Mennonite Fellowship, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom (what) shall I fear.” That song frequently reverberates through my mind, affirming trust in a faithful God.
4. “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Another person who had gone through a difficult time shared with me that this was a lesson she had learned. Although I’m still learning this lesson, it’s true that an experience like mine does change your perspective on what is important enough to “sweat.” Of course, what constitutes “small stuff” varies from person to person, and I would not presume to define it for anyone else.
5. Self-image: Being in public with a disability makes me more aware of how others perceive me. Reactions have varied from the woman with two young children who kept insisting that I take her seat on the bus to the bus driver who looked at me with disdain when I stumbled getting on the bus, probably thinking I was inebriated.
I have seen people go out of their way to avoid me on the sidewalk.
Others, some with disabilities of their own, have gone out of their way to be helpful. It may be trite to say, but it’s true that you view others with disabilities differently when you have one of your own. In the rehab hospital, it was difficult to see young adults who, because they had a complete spinal cord injury, had little hope of ever walking again. Or to know how to respond to the man who said, “I wish I could do that,” when he saw me learning to walk again. As I thank God that I can walk, which I do frequently, I am also reminded of those who can’t. And I continue to remind myself that the person I am, and the person others are, is not determined by outward appearance.
6. Insurance: that is, the value of it. I was blessed to have good insurance and a company that gave us no hassles. Because of this, I received some of the best medical care the world can offer, a privilege millions in this country and billions on this planet do not enjoy. I hope the day comes when that will no longer be the reality for most.
I have experienced the grace and love of God in a new way since the accident.
The challenge is to make that and these different perspectives a part of my life on a daily basis.
Ken and Char live in Tucson, Ariz., and are members of Shalom Mennonite Fellowship.