This was a difficult movie for me to watch for two reasons. The first reason stems from my youth. When I was 15 years old, I broke my neck diving into a pool (not the ocean, as Sampedro did). What I didn’t know until I went to the hospital the next day (read The Whole Story for the whole story) was that it can take up to 48 hours for paralysis to set in.
As far as I knew, you break your neck–you’re either dead or paralyzed. I found out otherwise. So I woke up on Sunday morning and I couldn’t feel my legs. Talk about freaky. Fortunately for me, my legs had only fallen asleep due to being in traction. But the few minutes that I thought I might be paralyzed were life-changing. I came out of the hospital with a newfound respect for what I had and how quickly it could disappear. [Interesting fact: less than 1% of people with spinal cord injuries experience a complete recovery—see Spinal Cord Stats]
The second reason this movie resonated with me has to do with my father. My dad, Ken, was diagnosed in February 2001 with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). As of this writing, he is confined to a motorized wheelchair and, for all intents and purposes, the equivalent of a quadriplegic. Watching the movie reminded me—again—of how precious life is and the choices we have available to us.
So what does all of this have to do with Life & Loss?
It’s simple. We go through life just once (as far as I know). But we are continually faced with situations—some uplifting, some challenging, some debilitating, some incomprehensible. When we encounter these situations, we have the gift of being able to choose how we respond to each. More than 5,000 people are diagnosed with ALS every year. Each one of them has an opportunity to decide how they will manage their terminal journey. Mitch Albom wrote a best selling novel about one such person. It’s called Tuesdays with Morrie. Morrie was an amazing example of how one can choose to deal with ALS. There are others. I broke my neck when I was 15 years old. Do you think I ever dove into a pool again? Of course I did, many times. Yet there are others who swear never to do so again. Fear can be crippling.
“So what can I do?” you ask.
That’s simple, too. Start to become more aware of how you respond to life’s opportunities, situations, and challenges. Begin “observing” yourself. Are you on automatic pilot? Or are you more response-able? Are you acting or reacting? Try this for a week or two. Get a feel for your habitual patterns of behavior.
After you have a good feel for how you respond to your world, begin to think about how you might have chosen to respond to a situation after observing your reaction. Say it aloud (if you’re around people, they might look strangely at you). Do this for a week or two as well. Get a feel for the options available to you—other than your habitual response—in different situations.
Finally, after you feel you’re getting good at catching yourself and identifying different ways to respond, start choosing your response rather than simply responding out of habit. Exercise your ability to respond. Be response-able.
Life will not always be easy and it will not always make sense. It is up to each of us to decide how we will move forward in the presence of setbacks, despair, loss, and confusion (not to mention the good things).
I pray that you will recognize and use the power you do have available to you to live a richer, fuller, more satisfying life.
© 2006 Paul K. McGinniss
1. Suzanne Says:
October 17th, 2006 at 7:05 am
Hey Paul, I thought you broke it while riding your bike? I seem to remember you telling the story about being on a bike ? or was that after you dove into the pool?
2. Paul McGinniss Says:
October 17th, 2006 at 9:09 am
After the actual dive, I swam some laps, ran some cold water over it using a garden hose (hey, I was 15!), decided NOT to do some bridging (bad idea, Glen), rode my bike home, ate dinner, took a muscle relaxer (bad idea, Dad!), went to bed, and decided to go to the emergency the next day when I couldn’t get out of bed.
My dad said it looked like there was a boa constrictor in my neck it was swollen so bad.