Suzanne Guldimann is the editor of the Topanga New Times, and also TNT’s resident naturalist. She was recently asked to give a talk on being…
JMo lay flat upon the mattress which lay flat upon the hardwood floor as the sun teased its way into the living room through south-facing windows. There was that ceiling again… looking much like it did the night before only now the light was different.
There had been no tossing and turning that night; all tossing and turning having been left on that snowy hill in Kansas.
There were going to be quite a few moments like this, he’d been warned, alone with his thoughts; thoughts that could turn dark in an instant. And if he let them, the depression might just swallow him up. If he was to survive them, he had to focus upon what he was able to do; now that there were so many things he was not able to do.
So, he lay there and took in the quiet beauty of a sunny spring morning in Colorado. He’d never really paid much attention to things like this before the accident. He was surprised to discover how calm he became.
The house was still. They had stayed up late; nervous while chatting about how this was all going to work out, trying their best to do normal things although “normal” was going to take a little time to figure out.
As he lay there pondering the pleasant morning, he committed himself to doing his part on this first full day home after getting a taste of how things would be the day before.
JMo’s parents had divorced shortly before the accident, His homecoming brought him to the house where he lived with his father, Ron. The first chore was getting into the damn house. The split-level dwelling was not exactly accessible. It took two of us to lift JMo out of the passenger seat of the black Volvo and into the wheelchair. Ron backed the chair over two steps onto the porch, through the front door and into the foyer. Here JMo was bumped up a flight of stairs—Ron pulling from above, the spotter grabbing and pushing the chair’s leg pedestals from below—into the living room where he now lay upon the mattress.
And this is where JMo would spend quite a few hours over quite a few days, sitting, staring out the window, watching life go by on the street below, in an active part of a friendly and family-oriented neighborhood in Fort Collins, Colorado. I live right across the street.
The physical and emotional support he had received at Craig Hospital had carried him this far. Now, a rotating crew of family, friends, and hired caregivers would help JMo get through his days. What he had been taught is that the quality of support he received was in large part up to JMo himself. His attitude would be contagious; whether upbeat or surly. And, his attention to detail would become a critical asset as JMo helped others help JMo.
It took awhile for JMo to discover the new normal, but with the help of family and friends, he settled into a zone, emotionally accepting his physical condition while doing all he could to keep his body in shape; always hopeful that some new therapy would be developed that would rescue him from that chair.
Much of that hope came from Project Walk in Carlsbad, California, and later, from a new program modeled after Project Walk called the Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Project, in Denver, Colorado. A cousin with a few dollars in the bank supported JMO and his desire to do everything possible to give himself every chance at whatever opportunity might present itself. It was this thin thread of possibility that gave him purpose, although this didn’t occur to him at the time.
As time went by JMo realized that whether or not there was the possibility of physical improvement, his courageous effort to improve and maintain himself had revealed something even more profound. If he was to survive—not just cling to the hope of getting better—but actually live his life, he must find purpose for his days.
After returning to Maur Hill—Mount Academy—to attend his graduation ceremony, JMo listened as his friends spoke of college. Before the accident, he had never really been that excited about more school. But things had changed… and Fort Collins was a college town, after all.
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