August 11, 2009 Observation:
August 1 I celebrated my 20th birthday. You may find that strange inasmuch as I have a 44-year-old son. However, it was just 20 years ago August 1 that I had my accident at Laguna Beach and was born into a new way of life. For that reason I will always feel I have been privileged to celebrate two birthdays.
It is truly a miracle that I have lived 20 years, paralyzed and on life support. It is only because of the tender mercies of the Lord and Jo Anne's never-ending tender and loving care that I am still here and able to enjoy life in this state.
Recently I was visiting a good friend of mine who has been in the hospital and on life support for the past 2 1/2 months. As we were visiting, he needed a procedure performed on him by a respiratory therapist. When the respiratory therapist saw me, he was intrigued by my wheelchair and life support system. When he discovered I had been on life support for 20 years he was truly amazed. He told me that for many years he had worked with a number of young men on life support and that most of them had not lived more than a couple of years. He was astonished at my quality of life, that I could move about so well in my breath control wheelchair, that we could travel about in our modified van, and that I looked so happy and healthy. Of course we both attributed it to the incredible care Jo Anne has given me these many years.
Talking to this respiratory therapist and his reaction to me, made me realize how fortunate I am to still be here. Too often I am afraid I take life, the many miraculous times it has been saved, and my many blessings too much for granted. I don't spend a great deal of time thinking about my circumstances and very infrequently ever look at myself in the mirror. When I do, the thought always comes to me, "Jack, you are in pretty bad shape aren't you?" That kind of thinking, I have discovered, is a one-way road to nowhere.
My visit with the respiratory therapist and reaching the milestone of having lived 20 years on a ventilator, have caused me to do some serious reflecting.
Feelings of gratitude have welled up in my heart for the love I have felt from our Heavenly Father and from my family and friends. Family and friends have said things to me that are usually reserved for one's funeral service. I am grateful to have heard them while still alive though, because I do believe it is better to be seen and spoken to than to be "viewed" and talked about. I have never felt pitied by those who know me the best, which has been a great blessing for someone in my condition.
The other day my daughter in law, Kim, was helping Jo Anne get me dressed while we were on vacation in St. George. Recently called as a Relief Society President in her Ward, she was thanking me for letting her practice dressing the "dead." She had already been called upon to perform this service at her local funeral parlor and getting to help dress me was an unexpected blessing in helping her to become more expert in this aspect of her calling. It really made me feel as though I were still good for something!
Without the spiritual strength I have received from Scripture searching, prayer, and Jo Anne helping me with such "unwearyingness" I know the quality of my life would not nearly be what it is. However, I have discovered something else that has been a great blessing to me through these 20 years.
When I was first injured, I just felt that I wouldn't be able to do anything of any value for myself or others in my limited physical condition. Jo Anne made me believe that I still had something to offer to our family as well as to others. She prodded me, treated me as a "whole" person and challenged me to do things I initially would never have attempted without her encouragement.
With the advent of wonderful personal computers and superior voice recognition software I found I could still be creative, productive, and serve others in my own unique way. Jo Anne helped kindle a fire that still continues to burn within me to work hard each day and to be as productive as I can be.
Every morning when I awaken I can hardly wait to begin working on my computer. I always have something I am trying to accomplish and it gives great meaning and fulfillment to my life.
There are times I have felt, and been tempted to just vegetate, take it easy, (who could blame a poor paralyzed man on life support for doing that) and coast along, but thankfully have realized that coasting requires little effort and is usually down hill.
I think what I am trying to say was beautifully expressed by Robert Frost in his wonderful poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." He was driving his buggy home one evening and in doing so had to pass by a stand of tall trees. It began to snow big beautiful flakes and all was quiet and peaceful. He was tempted to stop and just stay there -- maybe forever. And then he wrote, "The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep."
I believe we are all tempted at times by our own version of "lovely, dark, and deep" woods that invite us to put our lives into neutral and just coast along. Fortunate is the person however, who realizes he has promises to keep and miles to go before he sleeps. It is in the keeping of those promises and struggling forward day by day and mile after mile that joy, peace, and fulfillment are ours.