One of the things I get asked most often, especially if I am out taking pictures and writing an article for work about the local Veteran’s Day or Fourth of July parades on the Square is if I am a veteran. Most of the people who ask me are veterans themselves, currently on active duty overseas or having served in Korea, World War II or Vietnam. Now I can totally understand why they would ask… I’m in a wheelchair and could have suffered an injury fighting on the front lines in Iraq or Afghanistan.
I really hate to “burst their bubble” and tell them that I’m not a veteran (in the most-common sense of the word), but after talking with several veterans the past five or six years, I’ve come to understand that, in truth, I really am a veteran of a much bigger war. The war of everyday life. Let me explain because I know you have that “deer in the headlight” look right about now, thinking “What is this guy talking about?”
As most of you who’ve followed my journey may know, and for those who just joined the journey, I was born with spina bifida and have been in a wheelchair for more than 25 years. Every day when I get out of bed, I’m fighting some kind of battle, whether it be an aching back, not getting enough sleep, a stomach ache that never stops or seemingly trying to play catch up with the ever-changing pace of society and their attitudes toward people with special needs. No matter how much I get done at work, it seems like I’m always running on empty when I get home and just want to crawl in bed and go to sleep for eight solid hours. But I think I do have one thing in common with the U.S. military, and that is my work ethic and my determination to never give up and keep fighting because I know I’d be letting a lot of people down, epsecially my friends, family and co-workers.
I really hate to put my name in the same sentence with the U.S. military because nobody can compare to the bravery and courage of our men and women in uniform, but some days I feel like a soldier in the infantry on the front lines near Baghdad. I may just be “infantry” but I know the man right beside me, or the person in the next cubicle, is depending on me to get the job done and do it right. Sure I may make mistakes, but that’s one of the best things about being a team, whether in the desert of Iraq or at the office working the daily grind of a nine-to-five shift. A team sticks together and helps each other be the best they can possibly be, and God knows I would not be where I am today without the encouragement and support of my co-workers and friends. I’d probably be sitting at home, looking through the want ads for another job or out picking up trash on the side of the road, and definitely would not be living my dream and having the best job in the world.
In my line of work, I meet a lot of co-workers, in different departments, and have developed what I think are great relationships and friendships with most of them. Like I’ve said previously I’m out on the streets a lot, or in other departments, talking to people about what’s going on in the city where I work, and apparently from the e-mails and feedback I receive from co-workers, I must be doing something right. Here are several e-mails from friends and co-workers I’ve received the past couple years.
I know you’re a fighter.
Keep smiling. Don’t let the energy vampires sap your strength!!! They are everywhere, and positive people are their enemy. Fight on! 🙂
All your efforts are greatly appreciated, Jason.
A couple months ago, I went to an event celebrating Gone With the Wind, and met an author whose aunt worked as technical adviser on the movie back in 1939. She said I am a real hero. I don’t mind sitting here today and saying that I felt almost ashamed when she called me a hero. I haven’t done anything special. I am just living life and trying to beat spina bifida any way I know how. You have no idea how unworthy I am of being called a hero. Every day, police officers, firefighters, paramedics and the military put their lives on the line to keep our cities, counties and nation safe.
I’m sure everybody remembers the tragic events the past few months in Oklahoma, Texas and Boston. The men and women who saved countless lives after these tragic events are the REAL heroes and deserve so much more respect than I do. I’m just a man, doing the best I can with what God gave me. Sometimes it feels like I can do so much more, and sometimes I just want to go up to a soldier or a police officer and thank them for everything they do to protect the freedom I love so much. Next time you see a soldier, police officer, firefighter or paramedic, take a few minutes and thank them for everything they do every day. Most of them hardly see their families, and I cannot imagine how hard it must be for a family to sit and worry whether their loved one is coming home.
I remember a couple days after I talked to my author friend at the GWTW event, I e-mailed a co-worker for something and told her what the author called me. A few minutes later, my co-worker wrote back and said, “You are a hero and I applaud her for recognizing that!! With all the challenges you face each day, you still get up each morning, come to work, do an outstanding job and all with a cheerful, helpful, positive attitude. Do you have any idea how many people NEVER do that? You are a hero to me, too!”
I felt so humbled and honored that people do actually see me as a hero, but please understand something… I don’t do what I do for recognition or praise or awards. I don’t go out every day, beating my chest saying, “Hmm, I wonder who’s hero I can be today?” And I sure as hell wouldn’t put myself in the same category as the U.S. military or law enforcement. My accomplishments pale in comparison to what these people do for each and every one of us every day. I will say it again. I just take it one day, one step at a time and try to do the best I can despite the obstacles that are thrown in my way. I genuinely love helping people and if I can offer a hug, a word of encouragement, a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, or an ear to listen, then that’s what I’m going to do.
One thing I’ve learned the past few years is that a little pat on the back, a word of thanks, a hug or someone saying I’m proud of you can make all the difference in someone’s life, especially if that person has special needs. You have no idea how good it makes me feel to get an e-mail from a co-worker, a text from a friend or a thank you from someone I come across in the community. If you have a family member or a friend with special needs, please, please take the time to tell them how much they mean to your life, even if it’s just “Hey, thank you for coming to eat with us today. We’re really glad to see you.” Or “Hey, great job on that project at work. I know how hard you worked on it, and you’ve really done a great job. Keep it up!!” You’ll never know how big these seemingly small words can be to a person struggling to face their challenges every day.
As I close, I want to dedicate this post to anyone who has a disability or knows someone whose life has been impacted by a disability or cancer. You can do anything you set your mind to. Sure we may look a little different, or talk a little bit different, but one thing I can guarantee. We’re doing alright for the shape we’re in!!!