Saturday, September 26, 2015
My wheelchair wasn’t designed to be an all-terrain vehicle, but I’ve never let that stop me from traversing through snow, four-wheeling across rocky terrain or running over countless people’s toes/feet. Basically, I do what I’ve got to do to be where I’ve got to be – even if it means riding dirty!
Over the past few weeks, I’ve driven across some pretty hairy places. Indeed, in my travels to the areas impacted by the fires in Northern California, ash, mud and burnt grass have become a new norm for my tires. But it isn’t what I’ve driven over that’s left a strong impression on me. It’s what I’ve driven through and what I’ve seen.
I’ve driven through scorched landscapes, passed downed trees and through ash that hung so thick in the air it blocked out the sun. And then there were the people. I’ve seen the look on someone’s face after they’ve been told they lost everything. I’ve seen people who evacuated so quickly they left without their wheelchairs. I’ve seen cot, after cot, after cot filled with people who woke up homeless.
I have seen and witnessed, the worst days of people’s lives.
And yet, despite the soot and ash and heartache, what I have seen more than anything else is something I did not expect; love.
I’ve seen strangers line up to volunteer at shelters; trucks and cars packed full of clothing, food, toys and supplies for victims they’ve never met; and neighbors helping neighbors.
I have yet to visit a single shelter without being received with kindness and generosity. These people, who have lost it all, take time out – every time – to offer me a warm cooked meal, show me around and ask me how I’m doing.
And they open up. They tell me about themselves and share their stories, which are always lined with hope, never despair.
Ironically, because of their examples of courage, positivity and service, I feel like, in many ways, they’re helping me more than I’m helping them.
And so it is that every night, when I go home, my head hits the pillow and before I sleep, I think of the people I’ve met. I see their faces, remember their tales and think of where they’re sleeping. I think about where I’ve driven and what I’ve seen. I remember the love I saw and felt that day.
And then I fall asleep – determined to wake up and fight even harder for those individuals (and the many I have yet to meet) the following day. Because as one man told me yesterday, “we’re all family.”
You got that right, Bro!