Goodbye to One of The Greatest

There really is no proper way of explaining him. Like any other force of nature, his energy and impact had to be experienced firsthand. My earliest memory of him is that he had a tattoo, definitive proof in a three-year-old mind’s eye that my Grandpa Ed was a pirate. His gravelly voice, perpetually tanned skin and adventurous spirit could make anyone think he’d dug up the fountain of youth on some remote Pacific island during his tours on the USS Tuscaloosa as a teenager in the early 40s.

Part of me knew that the day would eventually come – our last visit with the 91 1/2-year-old back in October featured about three conversations in a cycling loop, his dementia starting to take over. But another part held onto the childlike notion that my WWII veteran granddad would live forever; that, for the rest of my life, I could go down Indian Trail Road and find him at the end of his driveway in an “Old Dudes Rule” T-shirt waving an over-sized American flag like a man possessed.

Tragically, a respiratory infection set in just after Christmas and he was gone before we could even get a chance to get down and say goodbye. Life as I knew it came to a grinding halt. Although I had made a concerted effort these last five or six years to drink in every nuance of him that I could, sneaking as many videos and snapshots of “Eddie-isms” along the way, I still had infinite more quips, jokes and anecdotes I wanted to capture. That’s one of the most frustrating truths about life; you never know how many of those moments you have left.

Although I’d had months to prepare for the trip down for his memorial, there was no way of knowing how I’d feel until I got there. As we made our way up the hill towards the High Desert late last Thursday night, into Yucca Valley and through Joshua Tree on our way to Twentynine Palms, I could feel my throat closing more and more with every mile. Even arriving under the cover of darkness couldn’t hide the evidence of his absence and it hit me harder than I could’ve imagined.

The 5 acre patch of dirt he homesteaded back in 1950 and transformed into an oasis overflowing with fond memories for three generations had windswept sands piled like snowdrifts on the walkways and and fresh weeds creeping in through the perimeter. It looked as though, after a 70 year lease, the Desert Gods had already pushed ahead with their foreclosure. The world without him just didn’t make sense.

It wasn’t until I saw Grandma Betty cautiously waiting under the porch light that I felt my chest loosen up a bit. Over the next few days, all five of his children and most of his grand- and great-grandkids descended on the compound. It was the first time that many of us were together in more than a decade and a half. There were plenty of tears, but a good majority of them were accompanied by sidesplitting laughter as we partook in all the usual shenanigans that come with a visit to the desert. Some played games around the dinner table while others climbed the hill west of the house we all call The Saddle. After dinner we all had “Skippy Cups” of ice cream and did our best impressions of his corniest jokes.

At some point, probably midway through his memorial at the Eagles lodge that Saturday where friends and family shared story after story of his capricious nature and heart for helping others, the realization finally stuck – How lucky was I to have him so long? Many people don’t ever meet their grandparents, let alone get to experience a remarkable set the way I’ve been able to these last few years. Instead of dwelling on all the moments I’d never get back, I could hold on to the many gifts he’d given me over the years, whether directly or indirectly through his oldest son. Looking around at my aunts, uncles, cousins, family friends and acquaintances, I could see his legacy in every one of them, too. His gift of storytelling, his special brand of dad-joke humor, his craftsman’s eye, his ability to make anyone feel special and loved – it was all on display. It was the perfect way to memorialize one of the best of The Greatest Generation.

When we left the desert on Tuesday night, the emotions came rushing back to the foreground. Could this be the last time I bounce down that dusty old road?  Grandma said she’ll stay for a while, but is already considering a move closer to family and relative civilization. It’s obviously the right call, but it’s hard to imagine my trips to Southern California without making the long haul up the hill to what will always be my favorite place. As we awkwardly bounced around the corner of Mesa Road and onto the concrete, I was confronted with the idea that, as the only grandson to hold his name, I have no idea how I will even begin to explain to my future kids how utterly unique and almost magical their Great Grandpa Salvini truly was.

For some reason that first image of his tattoo flashed inside the still-three-year-old section of my mind. Maybe I’ll just say they’ve got a pirate’s blood running through their veins.

Edward Allen Salvini Sr – July 11, 1925-January 10, 2017

Full Circle

There is a Kierkegaard quote that says, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” After taking a couple days to decompress from our travels, it’s time to take a look back at the last few days of this trip and see what I can learn. The first and most obvious lesson: What a difference a functioning wheelchair makes.

Having all three of my previous trips interrupted by malfunctioning and/or broken wheelchair parts, I almost didn’t know what to do with myself. Last year’s trip to Las Vegas to connect with fellow paralysis advocates from all over the country was cut short by a pair of broken motors. Of the three days we were in town, I was only able to catch the last hour and a half of the last day.

And granted, I did attend all the festivities for the Roll on Capitol Hill this summer, but you would be surprised how hard it is to focus when you can’t even control where you are going – let alone mingle and socialize with other attendees – which almost made it worse. It was like being stuck sitting at your desk while all the other kids were out playing at recess. I recognized a few faces from afar, but couldn’t play any of their reindeer games.

Thanks to the good folks at Alaska Airlines not mangling my only usable form of transportation, this conference was an infinitely more rewarding experience. I spent Thursday night at the welcome reception clumsily reconnecting faces with names whereas Saturday and Sunday were mostly devoted to a myriad of topics ranging from volunteer recruitment to fundraising to web layouts. And while I really enjoyed every one of the presentations, it was the people I could meet that was the most interesting.

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Listening to dozens of my peers speaking passionately about their various advocating efforts in their respective states, I could feel a constant buzz of inspiration simmering somewhere deep within me. Hearing about organizations that have been around for decades and others that are merely weeks into their formation was both motivating and relieving; despite my innermost fears, The Here and Now Project is on the right track, with plenty of resources I can call at a moments notice to ask for advice. Just this one picture above features representatives from Southern California, New York City, Hawaii and the good ol’ PNW.

After a brief lunch with the West Coast chapters on Sunday, the girls and I shot out to the suburbs to connect with Kevin Pine, my wrestling coach for the first half of my college career. We met his two daughters, Kennedy and Tatum, and got updates about his son Josh who is away at college, which doesn’t seem possible since it felt like only yesterday that one of my roommates and I babysat him as a toddler. Kevin whipped out a couple of photo albums from back in the day and we started retracing our time together when we stumbled upon a few photos from my very first trip to Las Vegas, triggering a few memories.

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It was the end of 1999, and I was a redshirt freshman on the CWU wrestling headed for the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, one of the toughest tournaments in the country where hundreds of malnutritioned 18-25-year-olds with mangled ears descend on Sin City to compete the first weekend of December each year. I wasn’t even supposed to be on that trip because I was second line behind my former roommate and future two-time All-American, Shaine Jamie. But, as always, Life had other plans.

I vividly remember standing over a boiling pot of water with a box of mac & cheese in my hand about to pour the noodles in when the phone rang. It was Kevin, telling me that Shaine was out and they needed me to be on weight and in Vegas the next morning. Only fellow wrestlers can understand the depth of sadness I felt as I set that blue box of noodles down, knowing that I had a decent weight cut in front of me instead of that tasty meal.

I eventually made the weight, and the team made it to Vegas. With powerhouse Division I schools like Oklahoma State, Minnesota, Arizona State and many others in attendance, our guys took quite a few beatings in that tournament, especially me. I think I was outscored 32-2 in two technical falls at the hands of athletes from West Virginia and the Air Force Academy. It wasn’t pretty. But the tournament itself was not the main part of Kevin’s plan for us. No, the more important matches were the duals against fellow Division II rivals like Colorado School of Mines and Western State Colorado the night before. He wanted us to have exposure to people working and competing at our own level. He wanted us to grow.

I learned a lot on those trips to Las Vegas and other places like Southern Oregon, Eastern Colorado, South Dakota and West Virginia. I also took a lot of beatings along the way that are only starting to make sense right now. 17 years later, I can start see the correlation in all my recent road trips to connect with a new set of teammates with wheels. You’re going to have to take your lumps no matter where you go, but you’ll be better for it in the end.

Now it’s time to get back to the grind and keep pushing for a little more growth.

 

Make your mark

So I was sitting in my hospital room the other day, high on a cocktail of morphine and Ativan (breakfast of champions), when my buddy Big Jim walked in.  Yep, you read correct… my hospital room.  Around 11 o’clock one Saturday last month, I started to get the chills, but didn’t think much of it.  Just wrap me up in some warm towels, and call it good, right?  Wrong.  An hour later, I was rocking a fever of 104° with a mean case of the shakes while throwing up like a champion.  Sweet.  The last time I had similar symptoms, it was 5 a.m. on Christmas morning two years ago, when Santa, the bastard, left a nice, neat little emergency kidney stone surgery in my stocking (not to mention three more scattered over the next few months).  Good times.

After about an hour or so of intense denial about the need to go to the ER, I finally gave in, and was whisked away in one of the local fire department’s red and white chariots, complete with sirens and flashing lights.  Go big or go home, yeah?  Another few hours of blank stares from ER doctors, and I was admitted with what was deemed just a really bad bladder infection, with no real explanation, or concern for that matter, as to why I was shaking like an epileptic in the throes of a grand mall.  Solution?  Bring on the drugs, baby. We finally discovered the culprit after a couple days, a negative CT scan of my kidneys and more than my share of early-morning (see: butt-crack of dawn) blood tests.  It turned out to be a fairly mean case of cellulitis on my left thigh from my knee all the way up past my hip.  New, much more advanced solution?  Some battery acid-like antibiotics, more than a week in "the joint" and, you guessed it, even more drugs.  Hooray for me.  Considering the loopy-as-hell state I was in, it’s a miracle I remember Jim’s visit at all.

Big Jim was one of my physical therapists in rehab after I got hurt.  On the outside, he’s one intimidating guy, complete with a shaved head, some burly tattoos and more muscle than most would consider humanly possible.  The tough exterior is completely betrayed, however, by the permanent smile he wears, and the unwavering positive attitude he brings to the hospital each day.  We had an instant bond through wrestling, because his boy Zack can only be described as an absolute stud in the sport.  Well, the word "phenom" also comes to mind… so does "beast."  Anyways… By the time this kid reaches middle school, he will probably have wrestled in, and won, more matches and major tournament titles than I did in my entire 12 year career.  I have an autographed T-shirt… and you think I’m kidding.  I’ve followed the boy’s success solely through his proud father’s stories, and I could tell by the smile on his face that morning that he had a yet another doozy for me.  I’m just glad he showed up in between hallucinations, or else this story would be about purple trolls wrestling in sequined jumpsuits or something.

A deep, booming voice teamed with animated deliveries, Jim’s wrestling tales are never lacking in the entertainment department.  This particular story came from one of the many wrestling camps the big man and his beast of a child attended over the summer.  While watching a coach show a high-percentage scoring maneuver during the technique portion of the day, Jim could have sworn he recognized the name of the move, but could not place where from.  As the session came to a close, the man sat all the kids down and told them that the technique they had just learned was named after a rather successful wrestler he knew who used it to win a lot of big matches throughout both high school and college.  This man, who was paralyzed in a tragic skiing accident, always had a great work ethic and an even better attitude.  The name of the move was of course… "the Salvini."

Jim could not recall the man’s name as he told me the story that day, but he didn’t have to because he’s a friend of mine.  His name is Randy Connelly, and he was the head wrestling coach at my old high school when I was away at college.  The epitome of the word "coach," Randy’s competitive spirit is overshadowed only by his passion for his sport, which tends to spread like wildfire throughout his teams.  Every time I came home on a holiday break, he eagerly turned practices (sometimes full weeks) over to me with the hopes that what I had learned from competing at a higher level would be passed on to his kids.  I can still remember his enthusiasm the day I first showed "the Salvini" to his guys during a practice over the Thanksgiving break.

And so it is, I have officially made my mark on the sport that helped make me who I am today.  Now, I have always been a firm believer that when we finally do leave this world, each of us will be remembered based upon a few key moments in our lives.  Because of this, I always tried (keyword: tried) to carry myself accordingly.  The way I saw it, no matter where you are, or what you’re doing, you never truly know who might be watching and, especially when it comes to younger people, possibly looking up to you.  Did the move get its name because I created it?  Sorry, I didn’t.  Because I was the best wrestler ever, perhaps?  Sadly, I wasn’t.  Or is it more likely that kids halfway across the state are learning "the Salvini" not because of what I did, but because of who I was?

How will you make your mark?  How do you want to be remembered?

Happy birthday

St. Patrick’s Day.  Such a goofy holiday (I mean, of all the saints that could be honored).  Most of us think it has something to do with snakes in Ireland, anyhow.  It’s mainly the day that gives that annoying kid in class an excuse to be even more of a nuisance, and the party crowd a reason to drink themselves EXTRA retarded off odd colored drinks.  For me, however, March 17th means something else entirely.  It represents a birthday that was never celebrated… a person I’ll never meet.

"Here is your baby," the doctor said, motioning toward the white blurb on the monitor that morning four and a half years ago.  I cocked my head sideways and, sure enough, I could see a tiny person.  My eyes lit up.  I instantly had a million questions for the little figure on the screen. Would you be a chip off the old block, or daddy’s little girl?  Would you have my eyes?  My smile?  My untamable thick hair?  Would you be left-handed like your old man?  Would you inherit my ridiculous sweet tooth?  Perhaps my mild case of ADHD as well?  Lost in my thoughts, I barely heard what the doctor said next.  Pointing to a miniature chest on the ultrasound, he said, "And right about here… is where the heartbeat should be."  I got so excited as I looked for the… wait, what?  Did he say… should… be? 

As my mind wrapped itself around those last two words, my heart ran the gamut of emotions; overwhelming excitement, frantic confusion, sheer devastation, furious rage.  I looked at the doctor.  Should be???  He had said it so matter-of-factly, as if he were merely reading the menu at his favorite restaurant.  Just cold.  I wanted to kill him.  Strangle him, rip his throat out… anything to make him understand the pain he had caused us with his callous delivery so that, maybe next time, he would show a little more tact when shattering two young people’s hopes.  As we stepped out of the clinic that day, his words echoing in my head, the world completely lost color.  Everything seemed to be in gray tones.

Should be. Those two syllables haunted us for a long time.  A toxic combination of anger, bitterness, depression and inability to cope properly proved too much for us to handle, and we eventually parted ways.  Lost and frustrated, I wanted an explanation. Why us?  Why now?  What if…?  Infinite questions.  Zero answers.  I started to wonder if it was my fault.  Maybe I had done something wrong, and this was my punishment.

But as time passed, I slowly made my peace with the idea that what was supposed to happen, in fact did.  I can now look back and see the bigger picture I didn’t have the capacity to at the time.  We were young and it was probably the most difficult thing either of us will endure in our lives, but it helped shape us into the people we have become.  Had we not suffered that tremendous loss, we would not have the strength, wisdom or appreciation of our families and life in general that we have today.  And though the relationship did not survive, a great friendship did, and for that I am forever thankful. 

The whole situation taught me that time truly does heal wounds, but it doesn’t make you forget.  So while children are getting pinched and drunks are pounding green beers, I will be thinking about a hyper little kid bouncing around up in Heaven, getting ready to blow out four candles.

Happy birthday, kiddo.  Love, Dad.

A Christmas story

I know what you’re thinking, and no, this doesn’t have anything to do with me shooting my eye out, getting my tongue stuck to a pole, or a leg-lamp (FRA-GI-LE!  Must be Italian!)…. I wish my stories were that cool!  Fact of the matter is, although they may not be movie-worthy, we all have some sort of holiday story from our past that is held on to, be them heartwarming or embarrassing.  The best stories from our past, I think, are the ones told by someone else.  I didn’t hear mine until a few years ago. 
 
For what seems like forever, I’ve never known what I wanted for Christmas.  My mom would ask every year, and I would just say "I don’t know… nothing, I don’t really need anything."  She would get so frustrated, because I could never help her out, couldn’t even point her in a direction.  I could never figure out why, but I just could not bring myself to ask for something.   It wasn’t until college that my mom informed me why that was.  It was Santa’s fault.
 
When I was a kid, I was POSITIVE that Santa Claus was real.  My parents always did a great job of keeping that illusion alive with us.  For example, when my sister came home crying because someone had said Santa wasn’t real, my dad got on the roof late Christmas Eve, shook sleigh bells, and slid pieces of wood across the snow-covered shingles so that it would look like sleigh tracks in the morning.  After seeing/hearing something like that, how could we not believe in Santa?
 
So since he was the real deal, my lists to the red clad fat man were rather detailed and extensive every year.  Without fail, they were always packed with requests for G.I. Joe’s, Legos, Nintendo games and God knows what else, and he would always pull through for me as best he could.  But like all of our childhood myths, I finally came to the realization that he wasn’t real one day… and I was FURIOUS.  Trying to console me, my mom asked what was wrong and I replied, "If I would have known that you were Santa Claus and buying all those gifts, I would never have asked for so much."  Ever since then, my mom says I have never asked for anything again.
 
Okay, so it’s not as glamorous of a story as receiving a vicious beating at the hands of a cursing psychotic kid named to Ralphie, but it’s a story, and it’s all mine.  So here’s to you and yours creating new stories this weekend that you can pass on for years to come.  And while you are unwrapping presents this weekend, remember that the true gifts are the hands that wrapped them.  Happy Holidays everyone…

Chicks dig scars

…okay I’m not really sure if that’s true, but it’s a good title.  I don’t know if this could be considered an extension of the post before last, I guess it’s just another one of my philosophies for my life along the same lines.  Can’t quite recall how we got on the subject the other night, but somehow a lady friend and I got on the topic of scars, and it really got me thinking.  Apparently, she’s not as big of a fan of scars as I thought girls were.  I, on the other hand, think they are absolutely vital if you want to fully experience life.  The whole conversation made me recall a great quote I once read:
 
"Scars are tattoos with better stories" – Unknown
 
I saw this quote in a magazine advertisement for Toyota (or some other truck manufacturer, can’t quite recall), and loved it.  It is so true.  I have pondered the prospect of adding a little ink to my body for a long time, but have always come to the same conclusion.  I simply cannot find a something that means enough to me personally that I would want it etched on my skin permanently.  I see so many people who get tattoos just for the sake of having one, with no real meaning behind them, something completely insignificant to their life.  A sun here, a butterfly there… with no real meaning, and most of the time, far less originality.  Yet another problem with tattoos.  You can strive to be as creative as you want, but there still might be someone else walking around with your same tattoo one day.  Scars, on the other hand, are always completely unique… AND come with a built in story! 
 
I don’t care who you are or where you have been, EVERYONE has a scar and a story.  As you could probably imagine, my lifestyle left me with plenty of stories to tell.  There are the wrestling scars from wounds that may or may not have needed stitches, but were super glued shut in order to continue competition.  Some of the scars don’t come with as thrilling of anecdotes as those, but they are stories nonetheless.  For every tale I have about getting stitches from wakeboards smacking me in the face or gouging my stomach on a broken beer bottle while diving into a shallow lake (apparently the water had come up over an old fire pit), I have the truly embarrassing scars from hitting my myself in the face with a pickle ball paddle.  And of course the accident gave me some really crazy stories about metal objects being screwed into my bones! 
 
Most people keep journals and diaries to keep track of memories without ever realizing they are a walking tribute to the things they’ve experienced.  Every mark on our bodies is a reminder of where we have been, and what we have been through.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a tattoo with a meaningful story behind it, but scars remind us of pain we endured, and ultimately overcame.  They show us that our bodies aren’t as fragile as we think, and we really are stronger than we give ourselves credit for.  I have plenty of scars, and I wouldn’t change a single one of them because they have made me the person I am today.  They are physical proof that without pain, I would never truly know what it means to be alive.
 

The question

 

Honestly I could not tell you how many time it’s been asked. The same question, over and over. I completely understand people’s curiosity, I would wonder the same myself. The question? "If you were able to snow ski again, would you consider it?" Anyone that new me before the accident hears that question and laughs, especially my mom. Ask her, and you will get the same answer as the rest: "It’s Kenny."

I have said before that this site is only a microcosm of the person I am, and people reading this are only seeing a small part of me. That being said, I do think one could find the answer to that question in just about everything I have written, from the high-five to "a broken man’s plea." I just spent two days trying to find a single word that could accurately describe who I was before the accident, and the only one that makes any sense is this… intense. I was intense.

Looking back, I think I operated on two distinct levels; full tilt, and asleep. Be it work, recreation or love, I always gave everything I had. The way I looked at it, why not? What is the point in living, if you don’t put all that you are behind all that you do? If you don’t push yourself to the limit, you will never realize your potential. This applied to every aspect of my life.

I chose a sport that would push my body further than I thought was possible. I learned that I could drop 25 pounds in 10 days, and still have the ability to run a mile in five minutes flat. I picked my major in college because it was rumored to be the most difficult one at the school, only to find out it wasn’t hard enough. I applied, and was hired, for a job in advertising that I was in no way qualified for on paper because I knew it would be a challenge (okay, and because it would make me a lot of money). I did everything I could every day to make those around me feel happy, cherished and loved.

I spent my downtime pushing myself as well. I was always fascinated with the human body and the potential it has, and I spent my time exploring that potential. I tried snow skiing, wake boarding and skateboarding (to name a few), and they each taught me something about myself. The first two gave me a sort of enlightenment as to what you can achieve, both physically and spiritually, when your body and nature come together. Skateboarding taught me that sometimes that achievement is simply bleeding. Gosh I was terrible.

Since my accident, I have heard countless people say they would never ski again because of my accident. "It’s just too risky. After seeing what has happened to you, it just can’t be worth it. Never again." The funny part, is that these people think that I would condone such a vow. In reality, I get so frustrated when people say these things. I think the main reason I lived the way I did was because I was not afraid of failure. I think I learned to be that way when I was 16, spending the entire summer trying to land a back flip on my wake board. For three straight months, I did nothing but fall on my face, swallowing gallons of water and peeling my eyelids back over my head (or so it felt). Just when I began to think it was impossible, I succeeded, and it opened my eyes to a whole new realm of possibilities I had never considered. I realized that it’s only through our failures that we can really know the meaning of our successes. If you fall down, you get back up and try again.

But Kenny, there is no reason to be that risky, you say. The thing is, I wasn’t being risky at all. I trusted my body’s abilities, and knew what I was doing. I was completely under control, and outside circumstances caused me to get injured. What happened to me was an accident, nothing more. Accidents happen every day. Hell, if you want to be afraid of snow skiing… you should probably be afraid of everything in life. Don’t drive your car, you could get in a wreck. Don’t use electricity, you could shock yourself to death. And for god sakes, don’t fall in love, you might get your heart broken. Everything has its risks, outside factors over which you have no control. 

So, would I ever consider skiing again? My answer is simple. No. I wouldn’t consider it, I would just do it.  Because ultimately, it all boils down to a standard I set for myself long ago: I refuse to live my life consumed by fear. I urge you to do the same. Take a chance, feel alive.

An evolution of faith

Growing up, our family never went to church. By the time I was 16, I think I had MAYBE been to church on a Sunday half a dozen times. The only reason I went those times was because I made the mistake of staying over at a friends house on a Saturday night. So pretty much, I grew up without God, and I think that was downright instrumental in the way my faith would come to evolve. Because I had never been force-fed beliefs as a child, I was able to be completely objective when my crossroads with God came to a head.

 
That happened mid-July of 1997, at a Young Life camp in Canada called Malibu. In my high school, Young Life was more of a social experience than a religious one. All of my friends went to it every Monday night, and so did I. The group leaders (one being my wrestling coach) were an entertaining bunch, and every time we were together, it felt like a rock concert. It was the end of my junior year, and going to Malibu was just something everyone HAD to do. If our weekly meetings were a rock concert, Malibu was described as Woodstock.
 
I showed up, and was not let down. Though I’m not extremely well traveled, I have seen some amazing scenery on this earth in my lifetime. That being said, Malibu will always be the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. A four-hour ferry ride north of Vancouver B.C., Malibu was a log cabin paradise tucked inside in oceanside mountain range. Its architecture and expensive boardwalks teamed with its surreal aura made you feel like you were in Never Never Land. I was just waiting to see Tinkerbell tossing out pixie dust.
 
 

Not really coming there for God, I was shocked when the gospel hit me so hard. Knowing full well that this would be the biggest decision of my life, I took my time coming to it. But the message was undeniable, and the second to last day I gave my life over to Him. I came home on a high that could not be described. Still adhering to my "go big or go home" philosophy, I immersed myself in my newfound faith. I ate up knowledge and teachings with a ravenous hunger. I simply could not get enough.

 
That appetite carried over to my freshman year of college. My dorm just happened to have a solid Christian contingency, and I thrived in it. My weeks were riddled with youth groups and Bible studies. One thing that especially piqued my interest was the factual side of defending your faith, called apologetics. Being a scientific/mathematical mind, I never held a blind faith, and apologetics became my niche. I wanted to be able to argue religion with the best of them, and still remain adamant in my faith. I learned a lot, and to this day know exactly why I believe what I do. Life was great, but then I started to notice things.
 
Being a part of the wrestling team, I had many "non-Christian" friends that I spent time with. As the year wore on, I started to catch flack from people at church for not spending enough time with people of faith. I was appalled. I know the whole idea of "surrounding your self with a cloud of witnesses," to strengthen your faith, but I also recognized the Evangelical side of my faith. The whole idea of preaching to the choir simply did not appeal to me. I also found myself becoming disenfranchised with the church in general, because it seemed like every time I showed up, someone was trying to tell me where I stood with God. So after that, I sort of set out on my own for a while to to reassess my faith. I decided I needed to become more educated on religion in general to better understand what I truly wanted. Having done that, I came to a new outlook.
 
I have come to the conclusion that organized religion is not for me. Faith is. I have done enough research into the sects of the Christian religion to come to the realization that all "religions" are completely jaded. Some of the principles they have "derived" from the Bible were actually rooted in greed, politics, and overall self-preservation. People forget the history of the religions they have chosen, and how long ago they were some of the most corrupt businesses in history. If you get a chance, try looking up the real reason the Catholic Church made the priesthood celibate in the early days, and you will find it was nothing about spirituality but real estate and greed. Also maybe look into the Church’s silent consent of the slave trade, and platform of noninvolvement during the Holocaust. Pretty disturbing.
 
But history is not my main reason for abandoning organized religion as a whole. As I stated before, it was having my faith judged by members of the church. There was a saying I heard a long time ago that said "don’t point out the speck in my eye, when you have a plank in yours," basically saying who are you to judge me? It was really frustrating to have these hypocrites try to tell me where I stood in my faith, when they really had no idea where I was with Him. My relationship with God is mine, and mine alone. Only HE will judge me, no one else. I will continue on my path with Him, and be judged at the gates if need be and only then.
 
My faith is mine alone, and I’m content with what it has evolved into.

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Responsibility, what’s that?

I have a confession to make.  The first 23 years and 322 days of my life I was the poster boy for what’s wrong with my generation… politically.  I happily (and consciously, mind you) bunched myself in with the pathetically apathetic group of nonvoting twentysomethings.  I viewed politics as nothing more than semantics.  "Why should I vote?  It’s not like any of this stuff really affects me directly."  I want to take this opportunity to apologize to my country, because I took nearly six years of my voting privilege for granted.
 
It’s disturbing that it took my becoming a quadriplegic for me to recognize the err of my ways, yet somehow fitting.  I can’t help but recognize the irony.  The system I once said I was beyond is now the system I rely upon.  And sadly for me, my lack of prior participation leaves me struggling with a system which doesn’t seem to be on my side.  As if I don’t have enough on my plate, I find myself fighting tooth and nail for things I should not have to.  The most obvious struggle to date has been that over equipment.
 
As I have before, I will use the wheelchair industry as an example.  Take one look at me, and it is obvious that I would need a power wheelchair in order to lead anything that resembles an independent life.  Apparently, to the state, being a quadriplegic is not reason enough.  In order for the state to provide me with a power wheelchair, they need letters of justification from both a physical therapist and a physician detailing the reason I need each and every piece of equipment on the chair.  Does the fact that I need footrests really need to be argued?  Apparently so.
 
After every justification letter has been assembled, it can finally be submitted to the state.  Right off, the state takes one month to consider things.  You are warned ahead of hand that most all submissions are turned down the first time.  And as expected, my chair was turned down after the first 30 days.  Reasoning?  They needed further justification that I needed head controls instead of the standard (a.k.a. cheaper) hand controls.  Seriously?  The fact that I can do nothing more than shrug isn’t a good reason?  Guess not.  It took almost a year of monthly rejections for the state to finally approve my wheelchair.  Fortunately for me, some wheelchair companies will give you a loaner for the time being.  In the big picture, wheelchairs only give independence.  Some equipment is necessary for overall health.
 
One of the biggest causes of compromised health in quadriplegics and paraplegics are skin issues.  Pressure ulcers can lead to problems ranging from further loss of independence, to infection, and ultimately amputation in severe cases.  Because of decreased mobility, those of us who are paralyzed have to be extra careful with positioning.  Having an air mattress for your hospital bed greatly reduces the risk of skin breakdown.  This one piece of equipment costs around a few thousand dollars.  This is an item the state refuses to pay for.  They will rent one for you, in the event that you get a pressure sore (inevitable on a normal hospital bed), and then take it away once you are healed.
 
Financially alone, this makes absolutely no sense.  Instead of shelling out a few thousand dollars for a bed that virtually prevents skin breakdown, they will rent it for me indefinitely only to take it away until I get a pressure sore again in a few months.  They would rather pay tens of thousands of dollars on countless reconstructive surgeries and amputations than buy a relatively cheap piece of equipment.  They will pay thousands of dollars a day for you to stay in the hospital after these procedures, but refuse to take actions that would prevent that pain and suffering altogether.  I fail to find the logic.
 
Health care in general has become so compartmentalized it should no longer claim the name.  Maybe we should rename it "health obligation."  Because the industry is overridden with redundant stipulations and regulations, it has become so sterile and callous that the compassionate element is no longer apparent.  Doctors don’t care who you are, they just want to remedy the problem and walk away.  This in turn leaves the nursing staff (unsung heroes in my eyes) with more on their plate than necessary.  Lately, rehab facilities have forgotten that rehab is short for rehabilitation.  They focus on getting a patient’s body ready to leave the hospital, but not their mind.  Personally, I left the hospital completely unprepared for life as a quadriplegic.  But I could breathe on my own, so their mission was completed.  Therapists are just not given enough time with you to accomplish much.
 
Because of the system, each institution only does their part, and washes their hands of you when the job is done.  The lines of jurisdiction between each sect have become comparable to the Berlin Wall.  I came face-to-face with that fact upon my discharge from the hospital.  The therapists from the hospital that were in charge of obtaining my equipment for home (wheelchair, hospital bed, etc.) were forced to hand me over to home health officials with a big fat "Here you go… have fun," taking things back to square one.  Because hospital therapists are not allowed to deal with home health too much, you fall into the hands of people left completely in the dark.  Were they able to work together, even somewhat, the transition from hospital to home would not be such a formidable and frightening task.
 
Now I understand that it’s difficult for legislators and lawmakers to understand my plight, considering most of them have never been in direct need of the benefits over which they preside.  At the risk of sounding somewhat sadistic, I almost hope some of these men and women see someone close to them end up in a position of need like mine.  If that’s the only way that the repercussions of the stances they take can be felt, then maybe it’s necessary.  Because as it stands now, the lives of state dependent quadriplegics are unnecessarily difficult due to a system without perspective that works against them.
 
So I guess that leaves it to us to make change.  Get informed, make your voice heard.  And to those of you who are like I was two years ago, I beg you to reconsider your views.  While you may not think things pertain to you at the moment, you never know what you or your loved ones could need tomorrow.

A broken man’s plea

Make sure you appreciate your lives. Thank God every day for the blessings he’s given you. Tell friends and family every day exactly what they mean to you. Enjoy the smallest things in life. Give someone a hug. High five somebody. Go to the beach. Walk under the stars. Walk in the rain. Make a snow angel. Play a board game. Make someone a CD. Take a road trip. Go to a ballgame. Have a drink, but don’t waste time being wasted, life is better experienced without an altered state of consciousness. Be a crying shoulder. Play with the little ones in the family. Tell a joke. Give someone a piggy-back ride. Play outside. Be early. Run late. Sleep in. Get dressed up. Take long showers. Watch movies. Go out to dinner. Order out. Watch a sunrise. Marvel at a sunset. Go to the ocean. Learn something new. Spend some money on yourself. Spoil a kid. Make time for you. Go to church. Write down your thoughts. Meet new people. Laugh at yourself. Go camping. Travel the world. Don’t hold grudges. Go bowling. See a show. Feel the grass under your feet. Take a swim. Play on a swing. Never stop learning. Wear pajamas all day. Complement someone. Smile. Say hi to someone you don’t know. Read a book. Go for a drive. Build something. Tell a secret. Spoil dinner. Have a slurpee. Surprise someone. Surprise yourself.

Find " that someone." Find the one person that was meant for you. The person that gets you in every way imaginable. The person that, when you’re with them, the whole world disappears. Be open to finding them in the place you would never expect. Once you find them, give them your heart. Cherish them for who they are, and don’t try to change them. Stay up all night, just talking. Don’t ever fight dirty, it only leaves things to be regretted. Be honest with them always. If they know your deepest, darkest secrets and still love you, that means they are the one. Never go to bed angry. Keep them on the front of your mind, and the tip of your tongue at all times. Talk on the phone for hours, like in junior high. Open up to them. Make love, anytime, anywhere. Make them the most important thing in your life, and they will reciprocate. Always, ALWAYS carry yourself in their absence as you would in their presence. Never give up on them. Stay at their side, through thick and thin. Never be complacent in your relationship. There’s always something new to learn about the person, and a new way to show them you love them.

Guys-find that girl. Find the girl you think is more beautiful on both the outside and inside than anyone on the planet. And tell her you think that of her. Make her feel like the queen of the world. Give her flowers, not on Valentine’s Day, not on her birthday, on some random Thursday when she won’t expect it. Never miss a chance to tell her what she means to you. Pull her close at night. Remember what she wore the night you met. Study her eyes, they could be the softest brown, or the most electric green, but they are unique to her and are beautiful regardless. Tell her that you miss her. Hold her face when you kiss her. Brush her hair. Pick her up and swing her around when she hugs you. Find the most unthinkable way to show her that you love her. Pay attention to everything she says. Cook for her, mac’n’cheese or fillet mignon, she won’t care. Surprise her with something she always wanted but never got. Don’t get jealous. Trust her completely. Always pay. Don’t back down from showing her affection anywhere. Complement her on the way she looks, every single day. Take her dancing. Be her rock. Give her the life she always dreamed of, no matter what the cost. No matter how tough she is, always treat her as the most fragile thing ever. Make it so all girls are jealous of her. Give her space when she needs it. Take note of everything she likes, and dislikes; favorite food, favorite song, favorite place, etc. Bring her breakfast in bed. Plan ahead, the more thought she sees that you put into something, the more she will appreciate it. Go shopping with her, and pretend you like it. Come to terms with the fact that she IS more important than your boys. Think before you speak. Wear out the phrase "I love you" like it is going out of style.

Ladies-find that guy. You have it slightly easier. Let him make you his world. Let him do all of the above. Realize, that to an extent, all guys are the same. We are all dumb, clumsy, insecure, jealous idiots. So don’t settle for just any one of us. But, when you find the right one, he will treat you right. Even though we tend to fumble through our words, try to keep sight of our good intentions. Jealousy and insecurity come quickly and naturally to us, so find ways to make him know that he is your one and only. But understand that our hearts are probably even more fragile than yours are. Call him "your man." We love that. Greet him with a big hug and a kiss every time he walks through the door. Only dance with him, and no one else. Help him shop for clothes, we don’t care how we look, and whatever looks good to you, looks good to us. Make him feel more important than anyone else. Come up behind him and give him a hug. Wake him up with a kiss. Let him do little things for you, like hang a shelf or work on your car, it sounds dorky, but he lives for it. Be patient with him, because he is kinda like a little kid. Laugh at his jokes. Pretend to be interested in his stupid stories. As tough as we are, we really depend on your support. Bury your face in his chest. Tell him what you need, we are terrible at figuring that out. Spend time with him. Tell him you love him EVERY day.

Treasure it all, because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed…