You’ll likely know that I go south every year for the month of February due to how nasty winter is on my health. Both emotionally (the cold, short, dark days make me depressed) and physically, February sucks the life outta me. Even though on paper it’s the shortest month, it feels to me like ‘time stands still’ and the days will never end.
I explain why I ended up in California here (https://www.dionoxford.com/no-im-not-going-snowboarding/)
The place I stayed at was absolutely perfect.
Every single person there couldn’t have been more helpful. But my time there once again reminded me yet again that I can’t run away from my problems. MS comes with me wherever I go and I don’t get to leave it at home.
Emotionally I did not struggle with that seasonal depression issue that I have. Even though this year the weather in southern California was wetter and colder than many have seen in 15-20 years, I still wore shorts every day and didn’t have to shovel snow or chisel ice.
Physically however, it was a different story. I now heavily rely on my mobility aids. I have a walker on every floor of my home and in my office, a mobility scooter, chair lifts on both sets of stairs, an accessible walk-in tub, a ramp at the back door of the house, a pole to grab on to so I can get in and out of my bed, and a wheelchair van that has been modified so that I can scoot on board and then drive it with my hands. It’s complicated and expensive to be disabled. And even after all of that, I depend on Erinn and Cate for lots of little things that I once took for granted.
I rented a travel scooter for the month for my trip, as I knew I’d not have the advantage there of an accessible van and would need something that can fold down into the trunk of a vehicle. I also needed a walker once there, but didn’t have a way to carry one with me, and sure enough one was in my room when I got there.
I was reminded regularly of how much I do depend on people for those little things. and this group were so amazingly to me at every turn.
-from the moment I entered my little apartment there was a walker and some groceries waiting for me there.
-going for my meals at the cafeteria (which in and of itself was a blessing to have access to prepared meals most days instead of trying to make my own), with people graciously offering to help fill my plate and carry my food and a beverage to a table.
-I got stuck in mud on my scooter and a guy, who always seemed to magically appear whenever I was in a jam, came and pushed me out and got my scooter going again.
-a fair number of different people picking me up and driving me to different places, taking my scooter apart and lifting it into their trunks, and then kind of having to lift me into their vehicles too.
-they even had bars installed in the tub for me once they learned that I was struggling to take a shower.
People just seemed to always be there for me.
But there was this one guy James, in his 2nd of 2 years of training to become an officer, who was always there for me in all of these ways and more. At the beginning he was just this nice guy who was there to show me around and be a go-to guy while I was there. But at the end of my month, he had become my friend.
There was one occasion that stood out above the rest. I slipped and fell in the shower. Nothing dramatic. No bangs of heads of joints. I just slowly slipped until I was seated in the tub just like you’re supposed to sit in a tub. Except for me, if I find myself in that position, I cannot get out on my own strength.
Thankfully it was during a time when Erinn was there, but she doesn’t have strength to haul me up and out of a tub. I’m no feather…So I texted James, told him the situation, and said that I needed him to get some strong guys to come and lift me out. James is pretty tall and strong. He told me not to worry and that he’d be right over to lift me out.
Erinn helped me get enough clothes on to be decent. James then showed soon after and sure enough lifted me out.
A moment of total dependence and intimacy like that has a way of accelerating a friendship☺ I will never forget that moment and will always count him as a friend.
While I was in L.A. I was invited to speak 3 different times. I jumped at the chance. I love sharing my heart, but more importantly wanted to do anything I could in order to earn my keep.
And that right there may just be the most important thing I was reminded of on this trip.
As someone who is sick, after the initial shock and learning curve of having to depend on people for stuff, it’s easy to slip into a ‘dependency’ mentality. In my work on the streets I regularly name that I never refer to a ‘homeless person’ but hopefully always say ‘a person experiencing homelessness’ so that the emphasis is on the personhood and not the homelessness. That way, homelessness is not the entire resume of the person.
But until I was preparing for my talk on the topic of living as a person of faith in the midst of suffering, I didn’t really compute that the same is true for me in my disability.
I’m not a ‘disabled person’, though on many occasions have referred to myself like that. It’s been a slippery slope to only think of myself that way; as though my disability defines me.
I am a ‘person with a disability’.
I am a father, husband, friend, co-worker, son, brother, writer, speaker, musician…
I am not just dependent on people, but I also have things to offer.
I am not just a receiver, but hopefully also a giver.
That’s what life is.
And that, more than anything, was my primary takeaway this month.
And for that, I am extremely thankful.