Friday, December 28, 2012

"Letter to Brailey"

Brailey Samara Owens

Dear Brailey:

It is my privilege to send you the first letter of your young life.  You have already brought more joy to those around you than you can imagine.  You are loved profoundly, and you have filled your new home with smiles and happiness.  Congratulations.  That’s a lot to do in your first week. 

Know that your Mom and Dad have been dreaming and talking about you for many, many months.  They read all the right books, shopped relentlessly to make sure they had everything you need, and even had a friend build a special changing table for your Dad.  Now you have to do a few things.

First, grow up strong, smart, and with a loving heart.  When you get there, understand that your parents have forgotten just how hard it is to be two, and you will have to remind them.  Cry often, stomp your feet, and create a fuss now and then for no reason that anybody can discern.  After all, it’s your job, and you need to take it seriously.  In time, you will go to school and get good grades.  Great grades so you will ultimately get into the best and most expensive college available.  This will cost your parents big bucks, but they will beam with pride.  It’s part of the deal, and since both your parents are educators, they will admire your many accomplishments.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Your parents will learn in the years ahead that there’s no task more important, no job more engaging, and no undertaking filled with more emotional ups and downs than raising a child.  You won’t fully understand this until you have your own child nestled in your arms, but you will feel their love and concern every minute of every day, even when they give you a time out.  Of course, you should express feelings of injustice at each time out just to get back at them a little bit for the punishment.  Those moments will pain your parents even more than you, but they just won’t be as vocal about it.

I have designated myself as your honorary uncle because every family needs an uncle that’s a little off-center.  I’m pretty sure your Uncles Cedrick and Voncarie are well qualified in that respect, but you can never have too many.  After all, your parents will need somebody to point to so they can say: “Brailey, see what he just did?  Don’t you ever do that.” 

You have a big extended family, and many people will revel in watching you grow.  They will nurture and love you; they will tease and joke with you; they teach you important lessons; and mostly, they will be your haven of safety.  We are all thrilled that you’re here and look forward to watching the journey of your life.  With profound affection, I am

Your loving, honorary

Uncle Jon

Saturday, December 22, 2012

“Hills – My Sworn Enemy”

One of my recent blogs talked about getting used to life in a wheelchair.  We spent a lot of time in rehab learning how to maneuver, how to do wheelies so we could roll over small curbs, and in my case especially, how not to put holes in drywall.  That last one took some serious learning, and I’m still far from perfect.  But what they didn’t teach us about is hills.  That’s something everybody in a wheelchair learns the hard way.

Not long after Tamika and I got married, we went to a restaurant we had meant to visit for a long time.  Well, the restaurant sits at the top of a hill, and we had to park our car at the bottom in the parking lot.  It was a tough roll up, but as usual, I insisted on doing it myself.  Tamika offered to push me, but I did the manly and often stupid thing of insisting that I could do it on my own.  I was winded by the time we reached the top, but I got the job done.

We had a fine meal and enjoyed each other’s company.  Love is grand, and I was in love.  I still am, but that’s not the point of this story.  AS we left the restaurant, Tamika commented that the hill was really steep.  “Dwight, why don’t you let me hold the handles and guide you down the hill,” she offered.  “Baby, you know better than that.  I can do it myself.  No problem,” I answered with just a hint of annoyance in my voice. 

Well, “I can do it” turned out to be not quite accurate.  As I started rolling down the hill, the wheelchair started to gain speed at an alarming pace.  I tried to grab the wheels to slow it down, but the rubber only burned my hand.  I was now rolling at a fast and unstoppable speed, and all I could do was look back and give out a loud whoop.  I smiled at Tamika, shrugged my should and let loose a big laugh.  I didn’t see anything else I could do but laugh and hope for the best as Tamika was running after me as fast as her legs cold carry her.  I knew it couldn’t end well.  A short time later I crashed into the front wheel of a parked car with an ego that was more bruised than my body.  I got extremely lucky and suffered no serious wounds.  I also enjoyed the irony of the situation.  I was in the wheelchair through no fault of my own in the first place, but this time the fault was all mine, and I got off almost without a scratch.

Tamika finally reached the bottom of the hill and gave me a bit hug, which I didn’t deserve.  She, however, was not all grace and elegance.  She laughed, called me a big dope, and added an “I told you so” for good measure.  She then insisted on explaining that it’s not smart to take such needless risks.  She was right, of course, but I still thought she could have looked the other way at least this one time.  And I learned my lesson once and for all.  I now eye hills with great suspicion and give them all the respect they deserve.

Dwight Owens

Friday, December 7, 2012

“Ryan’s Tale”

One of the first people I met when I went to rehab in Jackson was a young man who had just been in a dreadful car accident and severed his spine.  He was in a wheelchair and according to doctors, will remain there for the rest of his life. And you might think that would be the focus of his every thought, but you wouldn’t know to hear him talk.

“Hey, Coach.  I’m really glad to meet you,” said Ryan.  “I brought you some candy.  Doesn’t mean we can hold hands or anything, but I’m a football player too.  At least I was before the accident.  Anyway, I’m glad you’re here so we can talk sports.  Well, I’m not glad you had your accident, but I’m glad to have another sports guy here.  Did you play?  I imagine you were a linebacker to look at you.”   And he went on and on seemingly without taking a breath.  And I just listened and smiled and reveled in his energy and his company.

Ryan and I became close friends during rehab, and that friendship has only grown stronger over the years.  Ryan wasn’t lying when he said he was an athlete.  He took his wheelchair and did wheelies that seemed dangerous to me, raced down passageways in the rehab center, and tried to engage me in competition of all sorts.  We would lift heavier weights than the staff allowed, and when we got caught, he’d say: “It was Coach’s fault.  I told him we should obey the rules,” and then he’d laugh because we’d been busted.  In fact, Ryan is more than an excellent athlete, he’s a superstar.  He was a great high school running back soon getting ready to play in college before the accident, and after his accident, he turned his energy to a new pursuit.  Fencing.

In less than three years time, Ryan has become the national champion for wheelchair fencers.  His fencing coach said he has never seen anybody develop so quickly in the sport, and he’s an incredible natural talent.  Ryan represented the United States in the Para-Olympics earlier this year where some eighty thousand people cheered him on.  He didn’t medal this time, but he represented the USA with poise, dignity, and a remarkable work ethic.  He will defend his lofty status as national champion later this year and is practicing for the world championship tournament to be held in Rio next year.  Ryan often says things like: “What a life.  I get all this praise and recognition for stabbing people.  It’s pretty cool.”  Well, I think it’s pretty cool too.

Dwight Owens