Thursday, December 13, 2012

Twenty-nine, Again!

Twenty-nine, again! December 13, 2012

“Only the Good Die Young.” ~ Billy Joel

Not everyone has the opportunity to celebrate two 29th birthdays. The only difference with my second one is that my father’s furrowed brow is now staring back at me in the mirror. Most people that I have encountered, who have experienced a traumatic Spinal Cord Injury, can remember quite well the day and quite possibly the exact moment of the onset of their paralysis, no matter if their spinal cord was completely or incompletely severed. The anniversary of this date is generally celebrated as a second birthday to celebrate the second chance of life. We lived.

I maintained consciousness throughout my car accident. I can quite vividly remember seeing the sign indicating the winding road ahead, feeling the out of control spinning of the car on the icy road, seeing the telephone pole the moment before the actual impact, looking at my legs draped over the seat in front of me after the collision with the pole, and watching quite intently the very concerned face of a nurse that held my neck until the paramedics arrived. She was my angel that morning in December back in 1983. There is no doubt in my mind that because of her great care, my spinal cord was not completely severed at the cervical level of C 5/6 and why I have movement and feeling throughout my body. I can contribute my incomplete paralysis and resulting independence to her and to a lot of hard work.

The only thing on that day that I can’t remember is what happened to the cup of coffee that I was holding? (I wasn’t driving.) Seriously though, I do think about that sometimes. Technology today has allowed me to use google maps and travel down the actual road and find the exact spot where the ice had accumulated on the road. I virtually revisit that site occasionally and it gives me a better understanding as to why we see grave markings along our highways.

Last night I caught the last part of an HBO concert that was a fundraiser for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. I was thrilled to see that Billy Joel still had what it took to belt out his songs and to play great music on his piano. Unlike other performers before him, he did not come across as an old man trying to relive his good ole rock and roll days. His shirt remained buttoned, and he sang with his usual grace. His song, “Only the Good Die Young” reminded me of a joke used back in rehab. We had all jokingly concluded that we hadn’t died because we just weren’t good enough. Grin.

There were about 28 of us on F5 at Boston University Hospital at Christmas, and most of us were in our twenties. Sadly, many have probably passed away since then, but I will never know who for certain. Over the years since then, I’ve only managed to keep up with one very special friend.

We have all moved forward with our lives. We have all had to deal with all of life’s aches and pains. Our disabilities didn’t exempt us from dealing with the usual onslaught of real life issues. Today, and every day, I am indeed grateful for life.

It wasn’t until years after my accident that I had had the epiphany of how close to death that I actually was. It wasn’t until I became a parent that I realized how much my parents went through emotionally with my injury and with my brother’s unexpected death a few years later. As a parent, some things remain unthinkable, especially when it pertains to your only son who is serving in the US military.

Christmastime can be either painful or happy. We can either dwell on the life that has been lost, or appreciate the life that we have been given. We can isolate ourselves, or we can reach out and volunteer and do something worthwhile. We can donate food and blankets to those in need. We can live. We can share pretty 'feel good' flowers on facebook. We can focus on positive energy and on doing the things that basically make us feel good. It’s okay for all of us to remember, if we are old enough to, our lives before. It is from those many experiences that we grow up and try to do remarkable things. Sometimes we all need a little kick in the butt.

There was another worthy quote that I read this week regarding being able to see what is right in front of us. It’s all there; we just have to be able to want to see it. It wasn’t until yesterday that I realized that Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, with over one thousand cultivars of Camellias, had one of the most extensive collections of Camellias in the world. Amazing beauty!

'If you can't find something worthy to photograph within forty feet of where you stand, you are not seeing.' -Ruth Bernhard.

My last visit to Magnolia Gardens was incredibly frustrating because the accessibility was horrible. They had used large white stones on their pathways and their trails were nearly impossible for me to navigate with my wheelchair. It is now my mission to find out if things have improved. There are just too many beautiful Camellias there that I truly want to see!

©Susan Richards, with permission

If I go awhile without writing, it’s because I know I write a lot. It’s not because I feel I don't have anything to say. That’s generally not a problem for me. Sometimes, I simply do not write because I honestly just don’t want to say it. Writing means feeling. Some feelings are better left unsaid, at least for a little while.

A good friend asked me very recently why I didn’t ‘pop’ a newly opened entity for non-compliance with accessibility. My response, was because I liked the person who owned it and that I enjoyed eating there. Stomach before access, I guess that makes me a bigot. The truth is that the entity that was originally there should have never received their certifications that allowed them to operate as a business in the first place. They were built after 1990.Their accessible parking spaces and curb ramps never met the state code that was applicable then, never mind compliance with federal code.

My opinion is that the new business should have been required to bring the parking lot and ramps to code before they opened their doors for business. They’ve been informed, now I’m just waiting for a response. This shouldn’t be my personal responsibility or anyone’s with a disability. It gets very old, especially when you just want to go somewhere to eat a good meal. The press could bring them some unwanted media attention, and someone could quite easily come along and ‘pop’ them. They would certainly be within their legal rights to do so. I, in all actuality, detest conflict and would rather mediate everything.

I encounter this type of scenario entirely way too frequently. I 'huff and puff' occasionally, but I rarely blow anyone’s house down. I very easily could, and maybe that’s what intimidates some people. I know my civil rights and I know that what I achieve with accessibility will ultimately make life better for a lot of people, even for the aging ‘old farts’ that opposed my efforts over twenty years ago. (I can say that because I am quickly becoming older too.)

My survival is to do what makes me happiest.I simply refuse to allow ignorance or someone's lack of compassion to affect me otherwise. Life is too precious. Somehow, I think that my love of life is reflected in my flower pictures. My flowers are quite expressive. Sometimes, I can feel them flapping in the wind as if they’re dancing. As a relatively new photographer who loves gardening, I’m intrigued by the natural beauty of all plants. They make me smile, and sometimes they may actually make me say ‘wow’. They simply make me feel good, and to be able to share them with others makes me feel great!