Sometimes life slaps you in the face and reminds you that it’s not all about you.
I was traveling to Cincinnati. This was the 6th trip in 5 weeks. I was beat and tired of slogging through airports and sleeping in strange beds. I was feeling kinda sorry for myself. And kinda angry at myself that I had allowed my schedule to snowball into so many trips in so little time.
As my Uber driver pulled up to the hotel in downtown, I noticed a couple of men in wheelchairs in the drive way. And then I walked into the hotel and saw hundreds of people in wheelchairs. All shapes and sizes--some young women, some old guys, some with amputations, some with shiny 3-wheel chairs, some with service dogs, all gathered around in the lobby of the hotel, greeting, hugging and wearing lanyards that said “Life Without Limits”. I could not imagine what was happening. Then I saw the sign. I was witnessing the opening day of the National Veterans Wheel Chair Games annual competition. According to their website:
Co-Presented by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) is a rehabilitation and wheelchair sports program empowering Veterans with spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, amputations and other neurological injuries to live more active and healthy lives through wheelchair sports and recreation.
Each summer, Veterans from across the United States, including a team from Great Britain, travel to a new community hosting the NVWG. During the week, Veterans compete in 19 wheelchair sports events while providing encouragement and mentoring for new Veterans. Veterans at the Games truly educate newly disabled Veterans on what is possible and those witnessing the events realize that limitations are only state of mind. (For more information go to pva.org and consider a donation.)
The hotel clerk at the desk said that they had around 600 people who were attending these games. I said “There is no way you have enough handicap accessible rooms to accommodate all these guests!” She said that was true, that they did the best they could and the attendees understood that they were going to have to figure some things out. And then she said, “We hold two accessible rooms open and don’t book them. Then people can sign up for a shower time in one of those rooms.” What? So, these people who are competing in athletic competitions must take turns during the day for a shower? Oh boy.
My pity party evaporated very quickly as I walked on my two good legs to a room that I could navigate and not have to figure out exactly how I was going to have a bathroom that worked for me. And, as for slogging through airports, how about having to encounter the barriers and difficulties of wending a wheel chair through those hall ways, ramps and seats that we take for granted? I was humbled and amazed at their spirit and their will to gather together.
The next morning, I met a man who was getting ready for his event. I asked him what he was competing in and he told me “Nine ball”. He was as excited about his opportunity to win as if he was running a marathon. We all find what speaks to our hearts and keeps our hopes alive.
Then, as I headed home that evening, I traveled with a bunch of Army recruits. Ft Sill is an Army base in Lawton Oklahoma. I think if you can survive basic training in Lawton, in the heat of summer in Oklahoma, you are ready for anything. The kids on my plane joined a group of about 100 who were gathering to get on the bus to be transported the 90 miles to their new life. They were babies! 18 and 19 year olds who, just last week, were playing video games on their parents’ couches. And now they were entering the dangerous and brave world of serving their country. Who knows what they might encounter and where they might go.
I thought of all those brave men and women I had just seen who had given everything for their country, including their minds and bodies, and were finding their paths in a chair that would forever define them, and their determination to not let it limit them. I wanted to run up to these little kids who had no idea what the future would hold for them and hug each of them and tell them to be so very careful. To understand the risks. To thank them for serving a country who just can’t seem to find our way out of war.
We are a grumpy country right now. No one is happy, no one trusts anyone, no one believes that their voice is heard. We are angry and ready to lash out. We will not tolerate someone else shaking the certainty of our beliefs and cannot embrace the concept of unity through diversity. But, all you have to do is look in the eyes of those scared kids who have answered the call to defend our territorial and financial borders, or look at the broken bodies of those who gave everything they had to fight someone else’s conflict, and then you must stop, take a breath, and be grateful. Grateful for limbs that work and rooms that fit. Grateful for those chosen few who stood for the rest of us and must now sit for the rest of their lives. Grateful for a country that can, hopefully, absorb the grumpy times and become a better, more loving society. “Thank you for your service” are hollow words if we don’t take actions that mean someday their service will not be needed.
So, I will pack my bags and leave again. I will slog through another airport and wearily walk down a hotel hallway to my room dragging my bag. But, I will carry those souls with me and try to remember to be grateful. To be a person who works for peace and justice. And to be a little less grumpy.
Glenda Stansbury is Marketing Director of InSight Books and Co-Founder of InSight Institute Certified Celebrant Program. She is also a speaker, a trainer, and an observer of life, and one of Doug Manning’s adorable and talented daughters. You may email Glenda at OrdersAndInfo@InSightBooks.com.