Today marks the 18th anniversary of my accident – the one that permanently paralyzed me from the shoulders down. Since I was paralyzed at 18, this means that I have lived half of my life in a wheelchair, unable to walk or even use my hands in any meaningful way.
Although this day will never be just another day for me, I have decided to celebrate it instead of mourn it. (I will be at Disneyland with my mom all day, doing just that!)
However, since this year is sort of a milestone for me, I thought I would take the opportunity to reflect on some of the things I have learned these past 18 years. For the sake of brevity, I will focus on just three that have impacted me.
#1 There Is Always a Bright Side
When I was newly injured, I never imagined that I would actually be GRATEFUL for what had happened to me, but I am. While it was nothing I would have chosen for myself, I count it a blessing and a mercy. I have gained this perspective by always finding the bright side to any situation.
As a result of this accident, I am so much closer to my family. I have had a chance to really appreciate them for who they are because I’ve actually had the opportunity to get to know them so much better! I’m also so much closer to my Savior, Jesus Christ, because this opportunity of being deprived of my physical dependence has made me so much more spiritually dependent on His atonement. This has allowed me to feel more of Divinity’s love for me, which has made me kinder, more patient, and more easily entreated.
Being able to see the bright side is not always easy, but becomes easier the more we strive to do so. Some helpful tidbits include: taking the time to be grateful for what you have, realizing that the bad that happens (what bad luck) is not overshadowed by the good (what good luck), and recognizing that other people have it way worse.
One time at Disneyland, I was at the first aid station taking a nap because I needed to recharge my wheelchair which was running out of batteries at the time. This family of two older parents with their grown-up daughter came in because the mom had had a very bad fall off of a curb. Her ankle was pretty messed up, and this obviously was not what they had hoped would happen at the happiest place on earth. However, I found out that she fell on the very last day, on their way to doing their very last ride. As I bid them farewell, I told them, “At least this happened at the very end of your vacation and not at the start.” They told me that they hadn’t considered that, and thanked me for pointing that out for them.
Being able to see the bright side is a talent of mine, but it has grown stronger as I have cultivated it over these past 18 years.
#2 What Doesn’t Kill You Not Only Makes You Stronger, but More Beautiful
When I was a teenager, I only wanted to become the most beautiful person (on the inside) that I could possibly be. That’s what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had no idea the crucible I was about to bear.
I am grateful for all that I have had to endure. It has made me strong. I have had some recent health scares which landed me in the emergency room twice. The second time, I was in so much pain I literally thought I probably wouldn’t make it. But I did! In those times of great pain and anguish, it is difficult to see that trial as something positive. When I was in the emergency room, try as I might, I couldn’t feel anything except for extreme pain, despite my efforts to be thankful, to feel the Spirit, and to feel loved. However, I had some earthly end otherworldly angels looking out for me. My nurse had the exact same name as me! And the charge nurse knew me because she lives in the same neighborhood and sees me around all the time!
They were able to finally figure out what was wrong with me, and once I had relief from pain, I was able to recognize the good in the situation. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we are unable to see a bright future for ourselves because of a storm that we are battling. All we can do is just keep holding on until it passes, and then afterward we are able to see better, to become stronger, and to cultivate those virtuous attributes that the storm strengthens.
#3 We All Need One Another
Before I was paralyzed, I actually thought that I could do anything without the assistance of anyone else. As an 18-year-old, I was living on my own, working a full-time job, going to college full-time on a scholarship, and having a blast. Obviously, I had it all figured out.
When I became paralyzed, the hardest thing, for me, was (graciously) accepting the help of others. I now have to rely on others for every physical thing that I need. It was beyond humbling. I had lived so long in a world where I thought I could get along doing everything myself. I was so wrong.
The thing that I have come to realize the strongest is that WE ALL NEED ONE ANOTHER. Even as a (semi-independent) 18-year-old, I needed others on a daily basis. You do, too. We live in a society where we depend on other people, but we don’t realize that it is other people we are depending on! You might think, “I make my own breakfast. That makes me independent.” Well, someone else actually grew what you are eating, raised the livestock, killed the livestock, prepared the livestock, raised the hens, gathered the eggs, milked the cow, made your oven, made your microwave, made your refrigerator, dug for the ore that makes your silverware, gathered and harvested the materials for your kitchenware, napkins, glasses, and so forth. You depend on all of these people. And all the people who ship it to stores, stock the shelves, and help you check out.
You also did not emerge out of nowhere! It is so weird to think that if any of your ancestors have done anything different, you wouldn’t be here today. We depend on those with us right now on earth, and we also have to recognize our reliance on those who have come before. “If [we] have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.1” We live in a wonderful time where technology enables us to do so much more than ever before. You could never, by yourself, make your smart phone, computer, or car. Yet, you probably have at least one of these amenities. It is only through others that we are able to have these wonderful inventions. We need one another!
I maintain that the most surprising thing we will probably ever learn in the afterlife is how much we do really need one another, in a fundamental, life-sustaining way.
Anyhow, those are my thoughts on this, the 18th anniversary of my accident. I’m excited, because I get to go to Disneyland today and celebrate. I’m also so grateful that I’m feeling well enough to do so, for my mom who will be taking me, and for all of the circumstances in my life that allow me to do so. I’m so lucky and so blessed!