January 21, 2008 is a day that seven years later is still difficult to put into words. It was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and I was just 18 years old. Just seven months prior I walked across the stage at my high school graduation and received my diploma. I was looking toward my future with hope, excitement and anticipation, it was a new chapter in life for me and I couldn't wait for what lay ahead. Until one day, everything I knew and everything I was looking forward to changed in the matter of a split second. I was lying on my stomach with my dad at the head of the procedure table and all I remember is bending my legs upward one moment and then hearing that ever so prevalent sound, the sound of my legs dropping lifelessly and hitting the procedure table the next. In a split second, that moment changed my life forever.
None of it made sense. I was supposed to return to class the next day following the holiday weekend. I was just 18 years old, and it was just an epidural injection to treat back pain. However, that day happened and it changed my life and the life of the ones that I love.
Now, here we are seven years later and every year since has become a moment of remembrance and celebration, rather than grief and loss. My family and I have chosen to recognize January 21st as a day to celebrate moving forward, a celebration of all that life has brought, all that life has taught us and all that has been accomplished. So today, in honor of my seven-year anniversary, I want to celebrate all that I have learned since January 21, 2008.
1.) Everything happens for a reason; it is as simple as that.
I have learned that no matter how much we plan and prepare for the journey ahead, life often has a plan of its own. We all have a different belief of what drives that plan, but for me it is my faith. I have learned that through the adversities, the triumphs, the successes and the failures, each moment comes together to mold us into the person that we were meant to be. Through the adversities, the triumphs, the successes and the failures, I have learned that each moment comes together to mold us into the person that we were meant to be. I have changed since my paralysis, however; I am not a different person. I am still me, I have just grown. Often times it is the hardships in life that ultimately bring us to the place we were meant to be all along.
2.) We must find our own closure; it cannot be given to us.
For years I held onto the facts of what happened to me, I walked in and I never walked out. I never received the closure I felt I deserved, but I realized with time that no one but myself could give me the closure that I needed. I found that I had to let go of what happened in that room, I had to forgive and I had to pick up the pieces and move forward. It wasn't easy, I lost trust in people and I even lost faith at times, but everyday that I choose to move forward I continue to give myself another piece of closure.
3.) I am not broken.
I appreciate the well-intentioned sentiments of by passers, but I do not need to regain function in my legs again, or walk again to become whole again. Just because I was paralyzed does not mean that I was broken. We, as humans, do not break unless we allow ourselves to. Our level of wholeness is not determined by our physical abilities, it is determined by our spiritual wellbeing. In fact, I am more whole today than I ever was before my paralysis.
4.) Beauty comes from the inside.
In a society that for years has pushed a cookie cutter image of beauty, I lost my confidence when I became paralyzed. For a period of time I felt that I might never be beautiful again. However, my ability to walk never determined my beauty. Beauty is something that is exuded, something that is self-defined. I may not stand at my 5 foot 9 inch stature that I used to, but I am beautiful. Our differences, even what some may consider our "flaws," they are what make us unique and they are what make us beautiful. Beauty comes in many different shapes, sizes, colors and forms and everyday we have the opportunity to define our own beauty by embracing our differences and letting them shine through.
5.) Every moment in life is sacred.
I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have looked back and wished I would have gone hiking just one more time, wished I would have soaked in that feeling of my toes between the sand just a little bit longer. I have learned throughout this journey that it is the simplest of moments that are the most sacred. The beauty of the outdoors in its most raw form. The feeling of hot sand in between your toes, or even better the feeling of wading in the waves while your feet sink amongst every last grain of sand that washes in. Those are moments you cannot buy, you cannot replace, and they are simple and they sacred. Life can change in the blink of an eye, and not only can it, but it does. We must all enjoy the moments, both big and small; that we are currently in because we never know what life has in store for us moving forward. Forgive more, love often, hate less and live each day to its fullest doing what you love.
6.) Life is a choice. We can be bitter and angry or we can find happiness and joy.
One of the biggest gifts that I have received with my paralysis is the fact that at just 25 years of age everyday I can wake up and I know that I have found happiness, it doesn't mean that every day is easy, but no matter how difficult it gets I know where my roots are. Each day is a gift and each adversity is also a gift in its own weird way. We all have a choice in how we look at our lives, it isn't always easy, but it is a choice that we are constantly choosing to make. Each day I wake up I remember the words my father, Chris Weggemann spoke to my sisters and I growing up, "You are the best, you can make a difference and you can change the world."
We make a choice daily to give our best, whatever that might be on that given day, or to simply not. We make the choice of whether or not we want to make a difference and change the world because it is our simple actions that each day make a difference and change the world and it all comes down to a simple choice: Do we love or do we hate? Do we stand up for what we believe in or do we sit silently? It is your choice, so choose wisely.
7.) We all have a disability.
For months I felt like an outcast, I felt different, disconnected from my own body and disconnected from those in my life. It was a hard feeling to shake, but slowly with time I realized that I wasn't alone. In life we all suffer from disabilities, sure mine is a bit more evident now then it was seven years ago before my paralysis, but it can be physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, familial and the list goes on. However, our disabilities in life only disable us if we allow them to. Again, we have a choice in the matter. Do we allow our disabilities to enable us or disable us? It has now been seven years and I can say with full confidence that my wheels have taken me places that my legs never would have. Disability does not have to be a negative connotation, to me my disability is what enables me, it is what makes me beautiful, confident, strong... but most of all it is what makes me who I am. My disability does not define me, but it is a part of me and a part that I am proud of because disability doesn't make us different from our peers, it brings us together.
So to celebrate the seven-year anniversary of my paralysis I remind myself of the words on a card my parents gave me last anniversary. The words on the front of the card are Jodi Hills'; "I remind myself that there was no point going through it, it I don't move past it. If I keep replaying it, reliving it, there is no reward. The reward has to be in the letting go... the absence of giving it more time, more meaning, more value. The reward is the clarity of now. The freedom of now. The lightness of now. Now is my beautiful reward."
I feel lucky in a strange way for that day in 2008 because it has brought me to here, my beautiful reward. Here is my virtual cheers to the journey that life takes us all on; the triumphs, the tragedies, the successes and the failures because they all lead us to this moment, our beautiful rewards.