As many of you know I get around in what is called a "Breath Control Wheelchair." Christopher Reeve -- Superman -- had one exactly like mine. Some call it a "Sip and Puff" wheelchair because that is how you control it. A small tube inserted into my mouth allows me to operate all the functions the chair is capable of: moving forward, backward, left, right, the speed in which these maneuvers are made, and also tilting and reclining – is by sipping or puffing with different intensities through the tube. Wheelchair technology has improved over the years and hardly anyone now uses a breath control wheelchair. If a person can move his head or neck at all there is more advanced technology available. Because I have zero movement in my neck, my only alternative is to sip and puff. Orange County, in Southern California, is heavily populated, but our wheelchair provider tells us that, as far as they know, I have the only sip and puff wheelchair in the entire area. Thankfully, there are still technicians who know how to fix the chair -- I hope I don't outlive them all.
I am in my third generation chair now and each new chair is better and safer than the previous one. However, if I am not careful I can still run into things, over things, and off of stairs and curbs. The problem is the tube I sip and puff into. If I inadvertently let my tongue cover the little hole in the tube while sipping or puffing, the chair has a violent reaction. It starts going at warp speed and zigs sharply to the left or zags just as sharply to the right. Thankfully, as soon as I remove my tongue from the little hole, I am in control once again. I always have to remember to be alert, careful, take nothing for granted, and not get lulled into a sense of false security while driving about. I am always an accident just waiting to happen.
I hate to admit it, but I have left my mark on a number of people and places through "bad driving." In the Los Angeles Temple one day I was motoring quite rapidly toward the men's dressing room when I carelessly covered the driving tube with my tongue and zigged into the wall. The matron of the temple was standing right by me as I left two gaping holes in one of the most conspicuous places in the entire temple. She assured me that I was still welcome anytime I wanted to return and was most gracious, but I just felt terrible. I have zigged and zagged in the San Diego Temple as well as the Newport Beach Temple and have left my mark on both of these beautiful edifices. The kind temple presidencies and temple workers tell me to not let this deter me from my temple attendance, but at the same time I notice they are a tad nervous when they see me show up.
I think one of the worst things I did was run over my aged mother's foot. She became quite upset for some reason and used the "D" word in referring to me. I was not offended by her use of that word believing that she was justified in speaking to me in that way.
Another potential disaster was the day I was tooling down the hallway in our Stake Center. Without warning, a door suddenly opened and a huge seeing-eye dog with his blind master entered the hallway. The dog, upon seeing me rolling towards his master at top speed, went ballistic trying to save him from impeding danger. The blind man, in shock and total confusion, wanted to know what was happening. Fortunately, I was able to stop before running over the dog and knocking this good brother down. Jo Anne quickly explained the situation and assured him that all was well. I can't recall Jo Anne saying anything comforting or kind to me -- I wonder why? Thankfully, no harm was done and we didn’t get sued. I could just see the headlines, “Paralyzed man in wheelchair driving at a reckless speed runs over blind man.”
I probably shouldn't write what I'm going to next. I'm sure Jo Anne will submit my name and some of my escapades to the following website I recently found on Google called "A Darwin Award." It is "A Chronicle of Enterprising Demises or near demises honoring those who improve the species...by accidentally removing themselves from it!" [Google]
For example, one incident that almost received the top "Darwin Award" a few years ago is as follows: two young men living in Wisconsin went ice fishing for the first time. It was bitterly cold and they were ill prepared for this event. They had all their gear in the back of a beautiful brand-new red truck, along with their faithful dog. Although they had a special saw to make a hole in the ice they thought it would take too long and so they got the brilliant idea of blowing a hole in the ice with a stick of dynamite. One of the young men lit the stick of dynamite and threw it as far as he could. The dog, thinking this was a fun game ran after it, retrieved it, and started running back toward the truck as fast as he could. They tried to wave the dog off, but the more they waved and shouted the faster he came toward them. Just as he got to the truck he slipped, slid under the truck, and the dynamite exploded. The only happy thing about this story, I'm afraid to report, is that the two young men were able to save themselves -- wish I could say the same about the truck and the dog.
I believe that all of us have probably done something to qualify for a Darwin Award sometime during our lives. Just as I have to be constantly on the alert when driving my wheelchair so as not to injure myself or somebody else, I believe this principle applies to all of us in a physical way.
The Scriptures teach us however, that: "And the spirit and the body are the soul of man." [D&C 88:15] I believe there could be given spiritual "Darwin Awards" for less than intelligent spiritual or near spiritual demises, as well as for the physical. The Lord also has counseled: "... care not for the body, neither the life of the body; but care for the soul, and for the life of the soul. And seek the face of the Lord always, that in patience ye may possess your souls..." [D&C 101: 37-38]
When we become careless in our spiritual drive through life we can zig or zag off the narrow path, and in the process, destroy ourselves and possibly many loved ones as well. To not read our Scriptures, have our personal prayers, pay our timing, keep the Sabbath day holy, and not to protect our minds from the potential poison that can come from the media is to qualify for a "spiritual Darwin Award."
Just as I always have to remember to be alert, careful, take nothing for granted, and not get lulled into a sense of false security while driving my wheelchair, so I must also be equally as careful in my spiritual drive through life.
"And finally, I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them. But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not." [Mosiah 4: 29-30]