The Sunny Side Of Life
As an op-ed piece in the New York Times pointed out the other day, one of the great, though, devious advantages of wheelchair living is playing the disabled card, i.e., asking for special favors because you know you are special. I realized this the first time I arrived at the airport to find a block-long baggage check-in line. All I had to do was to conspicuously nudge my bags forward with my knees before a clerk spotted me and ordered fourteen people to stand back while he grabbed my bags and steered me to the front of the line. No one resented this blatant act of favoritism. They all smiled as if to say, "You poor thing..."
Along this line, soon after I became paralyzed eighteen long years ago, I tried to cheer myself up by thinking of some of the good things that might come out of this catastrophe. Inspired by the classic country song by the Carter Family, “Keep on the Sunny Side of Life,” I called this the “Sunny Side of Paralysis.” There were, of course, the obvious benefits like “free parking for life” and “big savings on shoes.” Then there are the not-so-obvious ones like the lady handing out samples at Costco inviting you “back stage” to have all the samples you want. These perks did little to convince me that paralysis was a good thing, but I do spend a lot of time at Costco and it’s nice to have a hobby.
I was a neophyte of wheelchair life then. Now I’m a crusty old veteran and know a lot more about how paralysis, for all of its thorny problems, has made my life just a smidgen easier. Here are a couple for-instances:
• MEALS ON WHEELS. For parties, dinners, wedding receptions, and other social occasions, friends will invariably insist on coming to your house and bring all the food! They want to make it easy on you, their impaired friend. You can even order up the menu. Sure, you have to clean up, but you end up with all the left-overs and save a fortune on gas. And you don’t have to maneuver your way into an inaccessible house with a snarling pit bull who hates wheelchairs.
• HERO NO MORE. When you are first paralyzed and don’t completely fall apart, you are everyone’s hero and since you don’t feel the least bit heroic, it drives you nuts. Well, worry no more: after a few years, friends and colleagues stop thinking of you as a hero and just accept that you are the same blockhead you always were. That way you don’t have to act heroic all the time -- never complaining and always upbeat and just, jeez, happy to be alive. You can now moan and groan like everyone else. It’s a relief, believe me.
• ENCORE, ENCORE! If you are so disposed, people will ask you to speak about your experience. This could be any venue from the Toastmaster’s Club to the monthly Fun Night at the local senior citizen center. Here, of course, you don’t want to whine about your fate. All you have to say is something like….”You know, in the end, being paralyzed is not half as bad as it looks…” and the audience will rise up in unison and applaud like you were Pavarotti taking a bow. No one will heckle you or call you a fraud. Want to get paid for speaking? Dream on.
• THE NAP. What a gift it is when a person with a medical degree tells you that, due to chronic fatigue, you are more or less required to take a nap every day for the rest of your life! You complain that a nap is a rude intrusion into your daily life, but once your head hits the pillow, you’re home. About the time most people are eyeing the office clock, hoping that their tedious work day will soon end, you’re asleep, dreaming you’ve been called up to play major league baseball. The fatigue is no fun but the nap is heavenly.
• PUSH ME, PLEASE. Sometimes things you hate turn out to be things you love. When you are first paralyzed, you consider it an affront when anyone offers to push you in your chair. “Hey, bud, I’m not your grandpa, I can get myself up this hill, thank you!” Then, one day, you let someone push you through the mall and suddenly you see the beauty of it. You feel like a Roman emperor being hauled around in a sedan chair powered by Nubian warriors. You wave to passers-by while eating a corn dog. You are floating on pneumatic tires.
Put all of these fringe benefits together, plus a dozen more, like never having to help your neighbor re-tile his roof, and you’ll see that nothing in life is black and white, even something as awful as paralysis. Okay, paralysis is definitely dark gray, you might even call it charcoal gray, but there is a tinge of white in there. So, see it, grab it, and enjoy the heck out of it!
Time for dinner? Who’s bringing what tonight? Ask for pecan pie. I love that stuff.
© 2014 Allen Rucker |
Purchase Allen's book:
The Best Seat in the House:
How I Woke Up One Tuesday and Was Paralyzed for Life