Thursday, November 28, 2013

Boy, I'm Glad I Did That

Perhaps I’ve always known something like this was in my future. Maybe somewhere in the back of my brain, I understood that I’d better get while the gettin’ was good. I suppose it’s possible.
I wonder about this because I’ve always been grateful for having two strong, healthy legs. I didn’t take it for granted. I remember a day not long before I got sick, where I was walking my dogs around my neighborhood, breathing in the cool autumn air, feeling the sun on my face, and thinking how fortunate I was to be in the world as an able-bodied person with two sturdy legs to take me wherever I wanted to go. This wasn’t an isolated incident, either. I used to think this a lot when I walked the dogs.
Have I always known a one-legged existence was lurking around the corner for me? I remember from a very early age telling myself that I needed to cram as much into my life as possible. When an opportunity popped up, I would remind myself that I should take advantage.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve asked myself this question: “In the future, what will you regret more?  Going for it and having it not work out, or not having the courage to try at all?”
     I almost always went for it.

Jamaica, 2005

     Since today is Thanksgiving, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to make a list of the things I’m really glad I did while I could. It is not a complete list, but you’ll get a general idea. And I mean no offense to anyone reading this who lives with a physical limitation of some sort. Yes, many of these things are possible if you’ve lost mobility or one or more limbs. Prosthetic limbs can do wonders. All kinds of wheelchairs and scooters can go all kinds of places. And there are accessible alternatives for almost anything if a person is determined not to let physical challenges hold them back.
     This is simply my perspective. I am learning new ways to do many things, but when I look back on my life, I’m damn glad I decided to go for it as much as I did. Here are some of the things I'm happy I got to do when I had two legs:

·      Swim in the ocean
·      Make love all night
·      Canoe
·      Dive off the high dive
·      Ride a motorcycle
·      Skydive
·      Walk all over Manhattan
·      Cook a Thanksgiving Dinner for a crowd
·      Go on a safari in Kenya 
      Swim with dolphins in Jamaica
·      Skinny dip in at night in the Pacific Ocean in Costa Rica
·      Hike along the Appalachian Trail with my dog
·      Play fast-pitch softball
·      Play racquetball
·      Play tennis
·      Take yoga and Pilates and Zumba classes
·      Learn to kick-box
·      Dance the night away in Chicago punk clubs
·      Sing in a rock band
·      Sing in a blues club
·      Sing in a classical chorus
·      Perform in musical theater
·      Paint a lot of walls, many of them with faux finishes
·      Snorkel along choral reefs
·      Live as a foreign exchange student in Japan
·      Complete my college education
·      In my reporter days, chase down an uncooperative source in a parking garage
·      Travel to Spain
·      Chase down a pickpocket in Barcelona, corner him, and get my shit back
·      Learn archery
·      Perform an impromptu dance to the song “Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting” at a wedding reception
·      Jump on a trampoline
·      Play with my kids in the sprinkler
·      Catch fireflies with my kids
·      Garden
·      Hang wallpaper
·      Give workshops
·      Climb to the top of the Washington Monument
·      Participate in huge booksigning events in convention halls
·      Downhill ski
·      Cross-country ski
·      Build snowmen with my kids
·      Ice Skate
·      Go on first dates
·      Backpack in the mountains
·      Roller Skate
·      See Broadway plays
·      Hold hands and walk along the beach with a man I love
·      Go sailing
·      See a whale breech in Alaska
·      Witness an Inauguration on the Mall in Washington
·      Witness an iceberg break apart
·      See the aurora borealis from a campsite on Prince Edward Island
·      Go antiquing
·      Go horseback riding
·      Build bonfires
·      Ride a bicycle
·      Play in the rain
·      Slow dance with a man I love
·      Learn to jump on horseback
·      Carry my babies in my arms
·      Swim in a public swimming pool
·      Go to wild parties where the police were called
·      Walk around the grocery store
·      Do the splits
·      Take ballet classes
·      Walk around the shopping mall
·      Walk through pro baseball parks and football stadiums
·      Attend presidential campaign rallies
·      Run down the dock and jump in the lake
·      Race through the airport to catch my connecting flight
·      Take a shower standing up
·      Climb on the roof to watch Fourth of July fireworks
·      Play an instrument in a marching band
·      Swing dance to a big band
·      Jump up and down at rock concerts 
      March in Chicago's St. Patrick's Day Parade
·      Make love on the beach in the moonlight
·      Hike to the top of a volcano
·      Tour Biltmore Estate
·      Climb to the top of a lighthouse
·      Ride the Navy Peer Ferris wheel in Chicago
·      And walk on foot around some of the world’s most amazing places -- Key West, New Orleans, Santa Fe,  London, the Grand Canyon, Tokyo, Seattle, San Francisco, Montreal, rain forests and deserts, underground caverns . . . and the sidewalks of my neighborhood

I remember after I’d been home from the hospital about a month, a dear friend offered to take me to my bank. It was a real ordeal, since I wasn’t strong enough to use a walker and a prosthetic leg was still off in the future. So she came to get me, guided me down my wheelchair ramp, helped me out of my chair and into her truck, folded up my wheelchair, and reversed and then repeated the process in the bank parking lot. As my friend wheeled me in, a woman casually strolled through the parking lot and down the sidewalk. She held the door open for us and we thanked her. A few moments later, my friend asked, “Do you ever get angry at people for having two legs?”
     I laughed and said “no,” of course I wasn’t angry with them. I explained to my friend that I went around this planet for fifty years on two legs, and I would never begrudge someone else that experience.
     Recently, I wondered if I would have answered her question differently had I decided to put off doing the wonderful things on that list of mine. What if I had told myself I could postpone these things for another day, and then woke up the next morning to find I’d lost a leg? Would I be bitter and enraged? Would I feel cheated? If I hadn’t gone for it when I had the chance, would I regret it with all my heart?
      Hell, yes.

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