When I became injured with a spinal cord injury more than two decades ago, I felt there was no possible way I would ever have fun again. And I loved fun. You might be thinking who doesn’t love fun, right? Kind of common sense.
But I have met people in my life’s journey, prior injury and post injury, able bodied individuals and folks with a disability, that have never done something for the sheer fun of it. And what fun brings into your life is joy.
After my injury, my incredible family and friends took me anywhere I wanted to go and did anything I wanted do. They just wanted to keep me moving so I could learn to navigate life from four wheels instead of two legs.
There was one particular thing I wanted to try again as soon as I was home. I knew I would have to do it differently, but I was determined to do it. I ultra-lighted prior to my injury and I wanted to after. (An ultra-light is like a hang glider, with one or two seats and a small engine above your head.)
About two weeks after I came home from my six-month hospital stay, one of my friends took me ultra-lighting. He was the friend that had introduced me to it originally, so who else would I ask to take me?
He was great about it. He not only said yes, he was very supportive of me feeling boundless and doing whatever I wanted to do. The morning of our flight, no one came to see me off. My family was so upset that I was doing this so soon after my injury, it was just my aid, my friend and myself that went.
We duct taped a lot of me to the ultra light because I couldn’t grip anything, and my legs needed to stay on the footrest. I felt safe. But we forgot about my head. You wear a helmet, and my neck was still very weak. As we took off, I could feel my neck strength giving way as we ascended.
I told the pilot to land immediately. The engine noise above our head was very loud but we could talk to each other through the helmets. He had us safely down in a matter of seconds and he knew the helmet had to come right off. As soon as it did, I was fine.
But I was determined to make this work. All I needed was a support for my head. We found a board in an old airplane hanger at the airport we were at that was perfect. We duct taped it to the ultra light and round two went off without a hitch. I felt safe, and I was comfortable, so I could really enjoy the experience.
To this day I feel sorry for that pilot. He had to listen to my LOUD squeals of delight as we accelerated on the runway, my whoops of joy as we took off, and my continual flow of laughter and tears throughout the ride.
Six months prior, I couldn’t imagine ever laughing again from having fun. When you receive a catastrophic injury like mine, part of you dies. It’s a very grave loss, and you grieve forever. It’s as if you have a Siamese twin that died, and is still connected to you.
The engine got turned off as the pilot helped me take my helmet off. I could feel the morning sun warm my face and somewhere inside me, something shifted. I felt an ease, a freshening of sorts. I felt ready for life again.
Fast forward twenty plus years to the present. Was that initial experience of joy, a refreshing of my soul happen because it was the first time I had experienced it after my injury? No. If anything, it has magnified because the more joy I experienced, I’ve realized the effect it has on my life in every sense… In my work, my relationships and my health.
It has the same effect on you. And you do not have to go ultra-lighting or do something dramatic to experience it. Some people would go ultra-lighting and still be on their cell phone. Well, maybe not that, but they wouldn’t take the time to absorb and recognize the joy around them.
And that is what it is all about. You can do a fun activity, elaborate or simple, but if you’re not absorbing it and not in the present, the activity will be over and you’ll go onto the next thing in life with never feeling the joy. Experiencing joy leaves us feeling fulfilled.
Something fun I am experiencing that is new, is traversing the outside world in my new track chair. A track chair is like a four wheeler for a disabled person. What fun! I can traverse by myself through fields and hiking trails and streams for the first time in over twenty years. It’s as if I’m seeing the world for the first time. What joy.