“I could have got the Eye of Horus, but that’s the School… this seemed more appropriate.” The little pewter charm of Anubis lay in my hand…. The Opener of the Ways… a perfect symbol. I was going to need a tissue and a hug…
I may have been a little on edge this week…things have been going on behind the scenes… desperately important things…Take every emotional ‘first’ a mother feels… the first time you hold your child, the first day at school, the first night away from home… the first time they leave home… then multiply that by ten to the power of some ridiculous number…. And that’s pretty much where I’ve been… and why I stood with my son outside his home with tears streaming in the dark.
Some things are not yet for the sharing… much as I would wish to. They are not mine to share yet. Suffice it to say I am hugely proud of both my sons at the best of times… they truly are exceptional young men, and I do not say that through the rose tinted spectacles of motherhood. They have been through so much and come out the other end together as beacons of love and light…and this week has been one of those times that has thrown that pride in the pair of them into sharp relief.
If you don’t know my eldest son’s story… click the link. It puts things in perspective a little. It will explain, perhaps, why a photograph of a meal in a fast food place landing in my inbox reduced me to a sobbing, smiling mess. Nothing to do with despair at the nutritional value of the meal… and everything to do with that old saying…
“How do you eat an elephant?”
“In small bits.”
And this time he’d taken a huge bite. He’d gone to the place he lived when the screwdriver was rammed through his brain, leaving him dying in an alley. And he’d gone alone. On public transport.
For four years, since the attack, he has had to have someone behind him every time he has gone out, pushing the wheelchair. He can’t self propel… his co-ordination is too poor. But the investment of a huge sum in an electric wheelchair is giving him something he never thought to have. Freedom.
Once upon a time he saw the idea of an electric wheelchair as giving in… accepting disability as his only option. He had to go through that stage in order to work his mind and body to a point where they were of some use to him again. Now he sees it as a tool for possibility, and is using it to tackle his problems head on, and free himself from an invisible prison.
Maybe a trip to the coast doesn’t sound like a big deal? People in wheelchairs do amazing things every day…. His co-ordination is badly damaged… he cannot walk… cannot stand for long… cannot use his right hand very well…has little ability to balance…his speech still not perfect…
But think about the detail people don’t see here.
Seeing is a big part of it… Nick can’t. His vision is very limited… and what he has is double… and bounces ceaselessly. No-one sees that. He can’t, for example, read the number on a bus…. A bit of a problem when you are using them. Can’t in fact, read very well at all… unless he can magnify the text hugely… and then not for long.
Which all means even signing his name is a major effort…but he manages to write for short periods on a keyboard. His chapters of our book are being dictated.
His memory is affected… so negotiating a journey is a big thing… he has no confidence in his short term memory at all. His thought processes have slowed and he knows and feels it…especially as he feels the delayed reaction time in his responses… even though to the casual observer he seems as quick as ever.
The screwdriver went through the organising, executive functions… yet he planned the trip, organised it. I just did the donkey work he can’t… and drove away terrified as he prepared to set off.
He had to face so many hurdles. Not only the purely practical ones which he has never shied away from, but the inner challenges of facing the world alone for the first time… meeting new people who see only an electric chair and judge unconsciously on that image alone, eating in public with reduced coordination… a whole host of things that would make anyone excruciatingly self-conscious and which have been huge barriers for him over the past four years.
He has had to navigate a town where he was whole and healthy and where he was stabbed. And he did it… at night too.
He achieved the ‘impossible’… again. It is a big, big deal. It opens the doors to Life again.
Nick is a challenge to many people’s preconceptions… including his own. Unless we have disabled people close in our lives most of us… he and I included in the past… have little idea how to handle meeting someone whose abilities are unknown. We cannot judge by our usual criteria … so many disabilities are invisible… we are out of our depth and panic… many avoid… most of us feel uncomfortable.
Nick has encountered many who, judging on appearance alone, treat him as if he has no mind or intellect. One woman at a business told him to call back when he was sober…assuming the then very slurred speech was due to drink. I’m not sure she enjoyed the follow up call … I was a tad annoyed at the time… yet really it is just another manifestation of how many of us feel under the surface.
However, Nick found that while many people panic, once they realise who and what is behind damage, human contact goes deep. In a wheelchair he is no physical threat… unless he runs over your toes…. Yet he threatens people’s perception of themselves, holding up a mirror to the flaws and fallibilities of our own image…. then, hopefully, changing those perceptions and showing we can be more than we appear… more than we may think we are.
He no longer feels the need to explain why he is in the wheelchair, why his body doesn’t function as it did.
“You know what? I’m me.”
And being an emotional kind of hobbit, I’m in tears again even writing that.
All the photographs in this post are by my son. He is beginning to find that what his eyes cannot physically see the camera lens can capture for him to see at home on the big screen. They are images of a freedom of spirit I admire with my whole heart… they are not just pretty pictures… they are condensed emotion… they are memories he might otherwise lose… they are the impossible made visible… they are a testament to what can be achieved by any one of us.
They are evidence that we can eat elephants.