Monday, June 11, 2012

It's Not All About Me!

"It's Not About Me!"
Kevin Bruce Parent, All Rights Reserved

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” ~ Audrey Hepburn

This past week, I finally sat still long enough to be interviewed by my dear friend Alex Jackson. Alex is a young, but very mature, graduate student who writes a blog for the South Carolina Spinal Cord Injury Association on living life with a disability. Alex has an insight on life that I can relate to firsthand, although we are functionally somewhat different because my injury is more incomplete, we both sustained cervical spinal cord injuries at the same level, C5/6. Alex’s attitude, intelligence, and perseverance are inspiring. His quest for independence in spite of his dependency for basic care is quite admirable. His smile is contagious and comes from within.

Those who know me well enough, know that I don’t really mind talking, but talking about myself, especially on video, is not something that I’m very good at or really enjoy doing. I’d much rather be doing, and not talking about what I’ve done. I do not sing my own praises very well, but I know that I’ve done a lot of good that will benefit a lot of people. It was, actually, a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to talk to Alex in depth, and to have the chance to possibly make a greater impact on him too. He is our future in advocacy.

I have a lot of respect and admiration for Alex. Our lives are always full of stuff that we don’t necessarily like to do, that we must simply do. This was an opportunity for me to talk about Access to the Garden, and my accomplishments as a Consultant on Accessibility. My favorite question, “What has been my greatest accomplishment?” My answer was of course, “All of them”. (I know that I’m not the easiest person to be interviewed.) Any progress that I’ve made to improve someone else’s life is, indeed, monumental and significant. Whether it is a trip to the aquarium without barriers, moving a cart rack off the access aisle, or having a curb ramp installed to permit access to a park, it’s all been incredibly important.

When I’ve learn that I’ve made a difference without even realizing it, I am probably the most rewarded. When I’ve had Chief Building Officials repeat my words back to me about doing more than the regulations call for because it is the right thing to do, and because it makes life even easier for everyone, it makes me smile. (It makes me smile really big!) When I hear the next generation of advocates outwardly think, and jokingly ask, “What would Brenda do?” I’m somewhat ecstatic because they are thinking of a solution, and not dwelling on the problem as being unfixable. When I encounter a practicing therapist, nurse, or even an architect who remembers me talking to them when they were a young professional, that too is incredibly rewarding knowing that their perspective on people with disabilities has been broadened to understand the importance of why and how they are doing what they do and for whom they are doing it for.

Hearing someone in a position of authority openly say, “We can do better”, is also an amazing achievement. This is the first step towards progress. It is with this general acceptance of the realization that they have not done enough towards full compliance, which gets things going and moving in the right direction. This lack of avoidance is the progression in attitude that will reflect positive change.

Chances are that when I pass from this life, there will not be any large monuments erected in my honor. When I know that a person can go somewhere without encountering any barriers or obstacles to full inclusion, that is enough for me to know that I’ve done something really great! Occasionally, a few will say thank you, and that they appreciate what I have done and what I’m doing. Many will never know that I was there.

When I plant my garden, I do believe in the hope for tomorrow. Although, I know that the topography will change with time, and suburbia will continue to sprawl, it is my hope that more focus will be placed on the importance of green space. As I learn more about what is around me within my own community, I see more emphasis growing on Urban and Community Farms. I also see more emphasis on gardening within the home landscape.

I avoid politics whenever possible, but I do believe in the importance of giving praise when it deserves to be given. Michelle Obama’s garden at the Whitehouse is fabulous! Nothing speaks louder than the leader of our nation having a vegetable garden at the Whitehouse. I never realized until now that the last kitchen garden at the Whitehouse was developed and maintained by Eleanor Roosevelt, with her campaign for the Victory Gardens. The Victory Gardens were a great project to encourage self reliance during a time of food shortages! Michelle Obama's campaign for 'American Grown' is a great project that encourages healthy eating for all during a time where obesity and health problems are a result of our nation's unhealthy eating habits.

A lot of life’s lessons are learned in the garden. Everything from reproduction to death is right there in front of a young person’s eyes. Healthy eating is also taught! A garden is definitely a grand teacher. I have found that when I’m feeling overwhelmed by life, there is no better place for me to slow down, think, reflect, and focus. Sometimes, it is just as important for me to get out there and not think. My brain never seems to stop, so occupying it with repetitive work is a way to unwind.

My biggest issue with time is not accepting the simple fact that things do take me longer. My husband’s generic answer seems to be, “I’ll take care of it. It’s easier for me.” My response to this is always the same, “Almost everything is easier for you, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to do it.” Besides, I am so impatient that I only ask once if the task seems incredibly difficult. If it isn’t done to my liking, I’ll end up doing it anyway. Yes, I’m somewhat particular. Knowing that most things do take me longer, just keeps me working later.

My disability hasn’t changed who I am. It has just taught me more about me. It has brought out more confidence at times, and the ability to deal with less BS. Trying to understand human behavior is often quite perplexing to say the least. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone treated others the way they wished to be treated?

My garden is a place where it is more about me, although, while I’m in the garden, I still find myself acting as the nurturer. That part of me will not change. I can’t control everything in the garden; Mother Nature has the upper hand on that. My hope is that whatever I plant will grow, prosper and remain. Unfortunately, I know that the majority of it will not. I’ll never forget visiting my grandmother’s house years after she had passed away. The majority of her landscaping had been removed. It is my hope though, that one bulb or one seed has survived. Maybe, I’m it.


  1. Dear Brenda,

    Your blog is so good. I have enjoyed each installment better than the last. Thanks for sharing your wisdom! Debbie Hayes

    1. Your support has been wonderful. I frequently question if I'm getting the message out effectively and your feedback is that assurance that I so very much need. I put my heart and passion behind everything that I do. Thank you! <3

    2. Brenda I just love your blog. Your message it always heart felt, and I love your style of writing. I have met Alex. and you are correct his smile comes from deep within him and he is a true joy to be around. Please continue you blog and pictures I truly enjoy them. One day I hope we meet, I would love to come see your garden. Thank you! Jean Gilmore