In honor of spinal cord injury awareness month, the Christopher Reeves Foundation had me write a letter to myself, as if I was writing to the individual that I was 12 years ago at the time of my accident. The letter is written on behalf of myself in present day as I foreshadow to myself (12 years ago), what lies ahead in my future life. Take a look at what I wrote.
Today you will wake up and everything will be different, nothing will be the same, but it will be everything that you have asked for in life; a challenge. It is July 26, 2007. You are 17 years old and just five days ago you were landing a backflip on a wakeboard, setting personal records in a weight room, and just last week you had your orientation at Cal State University Long Beach where you were going to pursue a collegiate career in baseball and obtain a degree in business where one day you would fulfill your dream of taking over the family business.
What happens next will be the least expected thing that you thought life would throw at you, as somebody who always thought that you were invincible and that nothing bad would ever happen to you. I hate to ruin the ending to this story, but fear nothing because everything is going to be okay.
You are trapped. Both literally and figuratively. It’s 6:30 in the morning and just two hours ago you had left your house to head to Las Vegas to deliver handicap accessible bathroom equipment to a Home Depot in Las Vegas for your father’s business. You can rest well knowing that the last thing that you said to anybody, took place two hours ago when your mother locked the front door behind you, and you told her that you loved her. Always say I love you. You never know if you will ever have that chance to tell somebody how you feel again. As you lay inside a crushed vehicle unable to move (a vehicle that you rolled four times because you tried to swerve to miss debris in the road, let that be a lesson to never swerve and miss an obstacle in your life because it will only make you grow), just know that the paralysis that you are experiencing physically, mentally, and emotionally will not be your biggest crutch in life, but merely your greatest asset as time goes on. The lens that you will now see life through will not only give you perspective, but it will give you movement and the freedom to be you, not to be paralyzed. The truck that you just rolled four times, crushing around your body and dislocating your cervical fifth and six vertebrae, still was not enough to take you down. You are stronger than you ever realized.
In the succeeding hours, days, weeks, months, and years you will be tested. Your faith will be tested. Your patience will be tested. Your values and beliefs will be tested. Your physical endurance will be tested. But, most of all your mental and emotional state will be tested each and every day. Don’t lose sight of the reality here as it will be easy to break. Bend but do not break. Keep your trust in God, because he knows more than anybody that you were born for this and he has bigger plans for you. Every decision that you make from here on out will be on behalf of others and what is in the best interest of others, not yourself. You tried to live that way before and look where it put you. Trust the process.
Love on your mom and dad, your family, your loved ones, and your community. They are the village that is behind you. I know you think that you need them more than they need you, but the fact of the matter is, is that they need your strength even when you are physically weak. Be that person.
I know what you’re thinking laying in the hospital bed right now. The thoughts of: will you ever play baseball again? Will you ever be able to help others again? Will you graduate from college? Will you find love? Will you be the father that you want to be? Will your inability to walk leave you from achieving life’s greatest goals? Will your friends continue to stick by your side? Will you ever soar through the air on a wakeboard again?
The answers to these questions will come in many different ways and at very different times, but I encourage you to pay attention to the details in life this time rather than getting distracted by everything else that is around you. The details matter most. Keep on dreaming and figuring out ways for you to be standing on that mound striking out the final batter in the game again, but the way you will play baseball this time will be up in the booth broadcasting the game from above. Don’t worry about the fear of helping others again, you will reach more people than you ever realized. You will graduate from college and get your master’s degree and you will find the love of your life through the process. You will be the exact father that you want to be, because your family and your wife will not let you be anything otherwise. Your ability to walk will never define who you are, it will only change how you do things. The things you now will hold a greater meaning than ever before and you will achieve goals, new goals. Don’t worry about the people who are not involved with your life and those who chose to not be by your side, yet put more of an emphasis on investing into those who never left your side and those who are still present. Also realize that the phone goes both ways, do your part and pick up the phone to maintain relationships as well. I know you’re wondering if you will ever be out on that water again soaring through the air, but for now on when you will soar and fly it will be much different, but my gosh is the beauty from above now greater than you’ve ever seen before because of the details that you are able to see when you slow life down, you stop, take a deep breath, give your thanks, and live one moment at a time, rather than years down the road.
One last thing. Don’t forget to be perfect. Be the best version of yourself that you can be every day. You are not unique, but merely one-of-a-kind. There is only one you in this world and you should take tremendous pride in that, however you should not abuse it. You were put on this earth to benefit others, not to benefit yourself. Today is your new birthday, a day of new beginnings and a day that you can start living your life for others and not yourself. The ending to your story will be far greater than you ever imagined. But, if reality has not set in yet, let me tell you this… Your story is not over yet; so what are you going to do with it?