by Ashleigh Justice
What do you say to a person who has just lost everything? Do you tell them that they’ll get used to it? Do you lie and say it will be just as it was before? Will they even listen?
The possibility of walking again was something I painfully accepted would never come. I would never march in the marching band, I would never walk on the beach, I would never dance at prom and would always be stared at for being different. It’s a pain that I choked down several years ago, when surviving meant moving on and trying to live for the day. “I could have died that day (after the car accident) but I didn’t so I am not going to lose my life while I am still living.” That thought became my daily motivator.
In the first couple years after the car accident, I was ashamed of myself and of the disability I couldn’t walk away from. It’s a drowning sorrow, like being held down in a rushing river. To escape it, I gave up everything related to it. I ran from reality and sought to defy everything that reminded me of my spinal cord injury. I took on sports, dated indiscriminately, went wild on occasion. But I mentored others and in that way, I did a service to my heart because I was able to show, more to my self than the person who was in my once broken state, that I was able to get back some sort of life. Even if it meant that I would have to recreate it.
So now, what do you say to someone who has moved on? Someone whose sorrow has lifted and who no longer sees the ghosts of the past? Walking again was something that I packed away with all of the other things that hurt me deeply. I thought I had handled all of those stages of grief that Keubler-Ross described until there grew a whisper- Someone was working, really working, to cure spinal cord injuries. I met that someone, Dr. Wise Young, a couple years ago when he came to Arizona for the Working2Walk conference. I didn’t really think the conference would be all that promising because for years people have been beating the rallying drum of curing paralysis. But something happened that I didn’t expect. I cried.
I cried because of the genuine love for his patients I felt from Dr. Young as he described what research they were doing and why they believe it will at least have a positive impact, if not, be the cure. But they were still a ways off so, again, I put it back into that dark corner of my mind but with a nightlight this time- maybe there was a possibility…
Although I haven’t heard of any groundbreaking cures just yet, here is an article a friend posted on my Facebook wall a couple days ago. It brought back those feelings of disbelief and skepticism but also that warm comfort of hope. Dr. Young is still at it! If there is one person I believe could cure spinal cord injuries, it’s him.
“So, what would you do if you could get back just one day of walking.” My husband once asked me.
I would take the entire day and dance with my son. I would hike with my husband and go drive a Ferrari. I would run with my dog, chase a butterfly, maybe even find some old high school buddies and make a throw together parade, me holding that damn pair of cymbals. If I could walk again, I would live like the next day wouldn’t come. Because, at one time, it almost didn’t.
My question to readers is, What would you do if you could walk again? I know it can be seen as an insensitive question but for me, answering it gave me such feelings of joy. It’s like dreaming of that amazing mansion we would like to own, as we go to work every day. It may be a fantasy, it may be a reality. But what would you do if you could walk again?