You'd think that growing up with a father who has been handicapped for thirty years, one might live life a little differently. Seeing a man struggle to swallow food, navigate a curb, and communicate with clients should change a person. It should render things like cellulite and a stubborn cowlick silly. It should leave one awaking every day appreciating the first breath instead of cursing yet another forecast for rain.
"I never think of myself as handicapped," my dad once said to me.
"Does this mean you're surrendering that placard? Because if so, there will never again be a reason to take you with us to the mall."
Since my dad's illness never defined or limited him, the rest of us were often free to look past it as well. Though one time I did attempt to walk a day in his shoes. After he noted his always-tense leg muscles were achy, I did a little experiment. Seated back at my desk, I set both feet on the floor and rested my hands loosely on my keyboard. I then tensed my quads. I tensed them with such focus I forgot to breathe. And I lasted no more than ten seconds.
"Maybe you don't think about what it's like to live in his body because, if you did, you'd spend most of the day crying," Leslie explained earlier tonight.
I was telling her about a book I had stayed up until 2AM to finish. With tears streaming down my cheeks and my nose stuffy from sobbing, I ignored adult responsibilities like brushing one's teeth and getting a good night's sleep. Me Before You is a story about a quirky working-class girl and the man she cares for, a once successful financier now a quadriplegic. As the New York Times reviewer noted, the story is mostly about lives pushed off their trajectory and the ways in which one might adjust. Both the incredibly well developed characters and delicately evolving plot meant I just had to finish it regardless of the time.
Upon setting my Kindle on my bedside table, I turned off the lamp and lay there in the darkness of night. Flat on my back, gazing at the ceiling striped by moonlight seeping through the blinds, I relaxed all of my muscles and wondered what it would feel like to be a quad. How difficult it must be having to depend on others for every single thing. I couldn't even fathom the challenge and mental anguish of such a life. Like my leg-tensing experiment a few years back, I lasted only a short while. After which I rolled onto my side and fell asleep.
When I awoke this morning, I admittedly cursed the cloudy sky. I grumbled at the list of work emails I needed to send. I sighed when I realized I had forgotten to buy milk. But as I stepped away from my office for a midday workout, something shifted. I couldn't help but be thankful for my hands that gripped the steering wheel, my feet that helped me pace at an 11min mile, my lungs that managed the hastened breathing. Everyday aspects of my life shadowed by work obligations and the Bravo line-up suddenly glistened in the sunlight. Simply put, I couldn't help but be grateful to walk a day in my shoes.