Last weekend I felt a wave of gratitude and awe wash over me as I stood in the Craig Hospital, a top spinal injury rehab center in Denver, Colorado. My good friend, Jon Atwater, is one of the temporary residents, who are all remarkable people embarking on what is truly the Unbeatable Mind journey of their lives.
Two months ago Jon was working on his sustainable dream home in Durango, CO. that he has been laboring patiently on for several years. That day was no different from any other…until, reaching for a light fixture, he lost his footing. In a single, awful moment, Jon went tumbling over the ledge, his neck taking his full weight on the railing of the porch below. Laying like a rag doll on the ground, his wife Jenny experienced moments of terror…then she heard him utter a few words. He was alive!
That was the great new – his brain was not injured. The not-so-great news was that Jon was paralyzed for the second time in his life.
As he was rushed to the hospital, Jon beat himself up something fierce for allowing this to happen. He should have been more careful! Why didn’t he use the ladder? Wasn’t once enough? What would this mean for his family?
As a young athlete, Jon had broken his neck tumbling off a trampoline. It took a year to walk again, yet his recovery was incomplete, allowing mobility but no athleticism. Now, his neck broken a second time, he wondered if he had the courage and mental capital to facilitate a full recovery.
Two months later I was able to visit Jon. After catching up he showed me around the Craig Center and introduced me to the other patients. They were awesome, in good spirits and all in various stages of recovery. I was quite surprised at their attitudes, so soon after such life changing, traumatic incidents. The young lady who crashed her car was working out with her Dad. She had a good day that day…they said she may walk again in 6 months. The fellow who rolled his ATV was playful and clearly had ADD, as he was flitting around the hospital in his wheelchair spreading his good cheer. However, Jon said that in spite of his belief, the prognosis was not good that he will walk again. What impressed me the most was that they all had that quiet courage to get up every day, and try again, with a smile.
What can we “healthy” people learn from these courageous souls?
We all have challenges in our lives, some bigger than others. But every once in a while a real doozy comes along – be it cancer, disabling accidents, natural disasters or random acts of violence. When it happens to us, and we survive, we have an opportunity to re-set our lives. These events force a new beginning – an opportunity to do things a bit different. Often they trigger a spiritual journey that results in a more purposeful, peaceful and service oriented life. The challenge exposes us to our true inner nature, which lay hidden due to the exterior busy-ness of our lives. The sudden stop, the radical change and the Herculean healing process, lead us to a deep inner strength and resolve we were previously unaware of.
However, why wait for a cataclysmic life event for that depth of strength and awareness to manifest? Can we take action now? Ask how you would live today…if you knew that tomorrow was your last day on Earth…or your last day standing?
At the Craig Center, Jon showed me that rebuilding lives and healing is a team effort. There are three powerful teams integrated into the healing process at Craig, each one supporting the other. First are the families of the patients, invited into a living arrangement at the hospital. They form a constant and intimate presence for the injured family member. The second team is the caring and highly professional staff that has committed their lives in service to the patients. Finally, perhaps the most powerful team, is formed by the patients themselves. As I observed Jon, the “old timer who has been there, done that,” I realized how important his mentorship was to the others. He was guiding newbies from self-pity to an attitude of “I got this!” Jon and his veteran peers were providing an unspoken and critical service, mirroring and coaching mental strength for the new patients. And by taking their eyes off themselves, putting them on their teammates, they are well on the path to their own recovery.
Hooyah Jon and team!
Courage doesn’t always roar.
Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying:
I will try again tomorrow