Lights in December

I’ve always had a pretty strong reaction to situations where everyone around me does the same thing and seems to be following a script. So I go a little crazy over the holidays. I don’t know why. It all feels very theatrical to me. So my plan for these end-of-December days was to go camping. And to introduce Ben to some Russian food. I wanted to escape a little and to unearth some of the traditions from my childhood. And to stay off Facebook. Some of this plan did not happen. We slept in a real bed every night, for example. But I did get more days outside, and on the water, and in the woods, and ate lots of good food.

I went rowing on a real, tiny, one-person water-piercing slip of a boat. It was early and on a day that felt closer to winter than pretty much any other California day. I scraped my windshield with a credit card and then learned how to row. It wasn’t easy — my knees hit my hands and there is a very narrow angle I have to have with my back in order for my legs to be strong enough to draw me in. But it was new. And it was bracing. The shape of oars and boats is beautiful. The water is brighter, more reflective, and more like metal when it’s cold.

I went climbing for the first time since my accident. The first training for adaptive climbing at Stanford went really well. Mark Wellman taught a mix of students and VA Recreational Therapists how to rig his equipment. With his pulleys, comfortable seats, and army of traxion devices, pretty much anyone can climb a rope. He demonstrated the equipment from most adaptive to least, and asked for a volunteer for each. I volunteered to demonstrate how somebody in a wheelchair can climb a wall with plastic holds. I wore my ankle brace on my left leg and decided just to let the right leg hang. It was hard… the old range of body positions is not available to me. But I got to the top… hopping my left leg from hold to hold and pulling hard with my arms. I’m not sure I’ll do this with any regularity. And it was surprisingly emotional to put on my harness. But I was surrounded by rec. therapists… it was pretty much the most supportive environment I could have chosen for my first climb. Everyone cheered and clapped and took digital media. And Mark was great. He even invited me up to Tahoe to go cross-country skiing.

I also did more bike rides — exploring on day trips into lovely rolling trails. And froze my hands and feet and ears. And practiced more SCUBA dives. And I started walking more on my hot pink crutches. Still just in the house. Still just with careful spotting. But now my hallway track is starting to feel short, so I’m thinking of going to a real track — that seems like a really great surface to fall on — and seeing how far I can get.

I want to end with a list.. not of resolutions but of things I haven’t figure out yet, which I want to work on. I hope this list stays interesting to me for some time to come.

-How to tell the people who care about me when I’m sad. And more generally, how to be emotionally vulnerable without feeling pitiful or broken.

-Shoes: how to find ones that I can fit on my paralyzed feet that also stay on and are light and I like how they look.

-How to interact with strangers who treat me like an object: a sad story to collect or a figure to place on a pedestal.

-How to balance striving and fantasizing about the future with happiness in the present.

-How to celebrate both my independence and the people who I rely on and ask for help.

-How to invite more people over and how to be more social outside my house.

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