I sit here this morning, thinking about the past week, and especially last Thursday night trying to come up with a suitable way to say thank you to so many, but also express so much more. It’s so difficult to put to words what the last week meant to me, and honestly I’ve got writers block, and keep retyping this paragraph pushing replications of the words further and further down. Nothing seems strong enough to express the feelings of what Thursday night means to me, so I guess the easiest thing is to just say it.
Thursday night and the days following changed my life more than I could ever possibly imagine or portray with words.
For those of you who are wondering what happened Thursday night, or are wondering what it felt like from my eyes, let me first explain it simply, and then give you a step-by-step of what I thought and experienced.
So first simply…
Thursday night my incredible friends, family and community came together to show me the most tremendous display of love and support I could have ever possibly imagined. After reading my article Medicare Is Broken – Trying to Get a New Wheelchair for over Six Months about the failings of the healthcare system and the large sum of money I’d be paying out-of-pocket to get a new wheelchair that met my needs, they sneakily came together with a “Top Secret” Facebook campaign to raise $10,000. When I say sneakily I mean it, and somehow a secret Facebook group spearheaded by two sisters Bri and Billi (and very close friends from my younger years) were able to bring together so many people in my life, raise a whole bunch of money, and change my life. The icing on the cake and cupcakes (and boy let me say they were yummy… because I’ve eaten a whole lot of them) was bringing these hundreds of people together under one roof at the PIHS cafeteria and somehow tricking me into going without a clue that anything was up. I went into the room that night thinking I was part of a panel to speak with middle schoolers on overcoming adversity, and left feeling more overwhelmed with love and support than I could ever possibly imagine. Let’s just say having a huge room of friends, family and community literally at your back showing they love and support you is one of the most impacting things I’ve ever experienced. It certainly changed my life.
And they were all so sneaky about it 🙂 … Like my world rocked… Absolutely didn’t have a clue… In shock most of the night.
So how about from my eyes…
A few weeks ago, Anne, the principal of PIMS (and mother to the two sisters above) called to see if I’d be interested in being part of a panel to discuss overcoming adversity to middle schoolers. I thought sure, why not and asked her to send me the details of the day so that I could put it into my calendar.
A few days later I got an email saying that the panel was at 7:30 PM on Thursday night, March 2, and I instantly remember thinking to myself, “crap… that’s so late and on a shower night… how in the heck am I going to make this work” and then I remember thinking “what in the heck are middle schoolers having a panel of speakers that late anyways.” But as most people have noticed I’m kind of dense and slow on the uptake sometimes, so I just went with it and tried to figure out how to make it work. Not to go into too many details of the glory of quadriplegic life, but let’s just say showers are no longer the 5 minutes of jumping underneath the showerhead joy they once were, and take a lot of extra time, planning, and help from a caregiver.
Under normal circumstances I would have just shifted my shower night forward or back a night, but with a meeting to discuss the city’s Splashpad on Tuesday night, a City Council meeting on Wednesday night, and plans Friday night I couldn’t think what else I could do other than miss the event or be very stinky and smelly.
Reluctantly on Monday morning, 3 days before the big night I realized I just couldn’t make it work and wrote the very short email below to Anne feeling very bad about not being able to make the panel but not seeing any other option.
Had thought this was earlier, and am trying to make this work but it’s challenging with the 7:30 PM start time as I have a caregiver who shows up then until 10 PM to help me with a shower. Normally I would be able to move this to the night earlier or after, but have a City Council meeting Wednesday night and plans Friday.
I feel terribly doing this, but there’s no way I can be there for 7:30 PM this Thursday and still meet all my other requirements.
I think you can all imagine the tailspin this must have thrown into everyone’s plans.
The next morning my caregiver showed up to get me out of bed and one of the first things she said, was, “I hear you need a shower Friday morning,” and I thought to myself “what the heck… how did she know that?!?” and I remember going out to the dining room that morning irritated at my mom because I was going to ask the caregiver if she was available to help Friday morning and didn’t really feel like it was mom’s place to have done so for me. She was clueless and said, “I didn’t say a thing to her” and I said… “well, obviously you did, how the heck would she know otherwise” and we went back and forth and were both probably a little irritated and confused with each other. Little did we know that my sneaky friends, yes you, you wonderful caregiver included, were putting one over me and my family.
So, somehow everything was lined up perfectly for Thursday night, almost like a divine intervention or… something.
And to Thursday…
Thursday rolled around, it was a busy/hectic day, and after finishing up supper I remember Bria and Brody being an extra handful. The little guy kept crying, Bria was extra fussy and terrible two like, and me being the great uncle that I am thought, “Man I need to get the heck out of here.” and did what any great uncle does when the going gets tough and the kids keep crying, and grabbed a good book and jetted the heck out of there 45 minutes earlier to the thing at the high school. I don’t know how many other people get like this, but on a really crazy day sometimes I just need a few minutes of peace and quiet to myself. I got there, super early, and somehow Mrs. Barter was just there, magically, anticipating my arrival. Looking back, I should’ve thought it was odd that somebody was just there, 45 minutes early, to let me in the front door.
So I’m sure that sent the SOS out to everyone, Mike’s here WAY early, likely before most of the people were here for this “surprise.”
After visiting with Mrs. Barter for a little while, and being me and a little ADD, and nostalgic about being in high school I started getting antsy and started wandering. I get out into the hallway and see my friend Matt quickly coming towards us from the wrong way… not the front door that they told me to enter, but from the cafeteria. Looking back I should’ve thought this was funny because the panelist were supposed to come in the front door and Matt was coming from the other way, but again I’m dense and nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
Matt and I went back to Mrs. Barter’s room and visited for a while. He’s a close friend and in a wheelchair like myself, and we shared some of the joys about getting a new wheelchair, the wheelchair fittings and the multiple doctor visits, and just what a pain in the butt it is and how expensive everything is, and we talked about the off-road device I traveled down to Southern Maine to look at that you can drive out of your wheelchair and overall just had a wonderful visit catching up. At one point I remember laughing and joking at each other and saying… “Where’s everyone else… what a weak panel if it’s just the two of us…”
We started heading down the hallway to the cafeteria and I remember looking around and saying, “man nothing has changed… not even the hallway or the lockers… it’s like I was just here as a highschooler.”
And I think, looking back at this point, this is where things weren’t going exactly as planned. We went around the corner on the last hallway headed to the cafeteria and Anne stopped us saying that our families weren’t quite there yet. And I remember thinking to myself, “what the heck, why is my family here” and then see my grandmother comes through the wrong door later and I’m just like what in the world… but remember I can sometimes be really dense, like, looking back seriously dense, and although I was starting to think something was up I just went with it and remember looking over at Matt, saying something stupid and rolling in through the doors of the cafeteria.
At this point I saw a whole lot of, like hundreds, way, WAY more than I had expected, and instead of realizing something was up I just got butterflies and started freaking out thinking about what I would say. I hadn’t planned, I had just thought this was going to be a little thing with a bunch of middle schoolers, and was freaking out that half the town was here.
And then I turned the corner and saw my good buddy Seth who is living in Washington and his wife Kristin who is finishing up her degree in New Hampshire and it’s almost like all logical systems shut down. I knew something was up, but I couldn’t figure it out, and honestly at this point my brain wasn’t working all that well, and looking back I think I was sort of in shock. Anne literally had to turn me around, and the video started and that’s when I lost it.
As I sat there watching this video, completely dumbfounded, I saw some of the very closest people in my life. One of my very best buddies way out in Hawaii say, “Hi Mike”, to friends far and near, to people I randomly pass on the street, customers at the store, girls I’d had crushes on in high school (sorry Wendy), to people that haven’t been in my life for over 20 years, to my very first friend, and others that I hardly know. And I became overwhelmed, and started crying, thinking about how I’ve really had one of the most wonderful and amazing lives that a person could wish for, and that it’s because of all the people on the video, and the people surrounding me, and the people who have been in my life.
When I broke my neck, I thought my life as I knew it was over, and I guess that’s true, but that’s also when my life as I now know it started. It’s when some of my very closest bonds and friendships became and it’s when I realized that life is more than just skiing up or down a hill or the next adventure, but that it’s about the journey and the relationships and the lives you change and touch along the way and how your life is changed and touched along the way. Looking back at that day, 10 years ago, on March 1, 2007 when I lost so much, I lost my job, I lost my passions… and at the time it felt like I had lost my life… and I did loose my life as I knew it, but I gained so much, and feeling that all flash before my eyes as I watched the video and feeling the collective love behind me. I felt and still feel with all certainty for as much as I lost on that terrible day, I have gained so much, MUCH more.
And as I watched this video I began to come out of my stupor and smile and enjoy all the people, all the memories from my past, and promises for more in the future. And I smiled and cried and smiled and cried, and felt thankful for everyone in my life, for my family and friends who have always been there for me even during some of the most trying of times, and for the wonderful community that has always had my back, and was sitting there behind me with more love and generosity than that room could possibly contain. For all that were there, I’m sure that you could feel it, because I could feel the warmth envelop me and envelop us all, the feeling was palpable, intense, all-encompassing… and it showed me what it is to be a friend, what it is to be a family member, what it is to come from a community were collectively you know that each and everyone has your back and that everything will always be okay. I don’t know how else to explain that night other than that it changed me and changed me forever. I feel so lucky, and so thankful to have so many wonderful people in my life.
As the video ended I was pulled to the front room and turned around to see the hundreds and hundreds of people in my life. Honestly, I’m still in a fog from that night, and as I talk about it with others little glimpses of who and what keep coming to the surface, but it was wonderful and there were so many people there, and honestly I’m just overwhelmed from the support.
As I sat there, people came forward with a warm touch on the shoulder, to a hug, to so many man hugs… I don’t think I’ve given so much man love or seen so many teary-eyed men in my life, but I went through the line of people, so many wonderful people in my life and all I could say is thank you, I’m stunned, I love you, and well thinking about this and writing about this all and exposing myself like this… It’s not comfortable, but part of it is I think what was so beautiful that happened that night. We all came together, and for the first time for me I saw what an impact I’ve made on others’ lives, but also felt how strongly they and this community have impacted my life. Like I said earlier life changed… world rocked.
And, the nights not over, and I feel like there’s more to write here, but this is all I’ve got for now. To Bri and Billi, thank you for being the ringmasters to this incredible surprise. To everyone who believes in me and gave so generously, you have changed my life more than you can imagine. The sense of peace I will have in a new wheelchair that fully, and absolutely meets my needs to the best of what today has to offer will give me more joy and comfort than I can explain. And to more possibilities… maybe to someday having a tracked ripchair that I can drive ANYWHERE… Well who knows 🙂 but I certainly know that my life is better because of all of you!
Thursday night was the most wonderfully impacting night of my life. It will leave me forever changed and be a gift that I keep for the rest of my days. Thank you everyone and I love you.