When the Going Gets Tough - Laugh

The Christmas season always reminds me of an experience my husband and I had several years ago. I love picking out his gifts and surprising him on Christmas day. However, playing secret Santa can be quite challenging as I rely heavily on Guy for assistance with outings. But that year I ventured out on my own (my van is equipped with hand-controls), headed to the mall, and proceeded to buy as many gifts as I could stack on my lap. Once my forklift (lap) was nearly overloaded I safely tucked the packages away on the backseat, where I could easily reach them and still maneuver my chair in and out of the van. But as fate would have it, the drive home was interrupted by a near miss and the need to stop abruptly. Packages went flying everywhere eventually landing all over the floor. I was devastated!

How was I going to navigate my way out of the van without crushing Guy’s gifts? There was no way to reach the stray packages from my powerchair’s vantage point. How could I bring the gifts inside and keep them hidden from Guy? Near tears, I called my husband and haltingly described the situation to him. As usual he had a way to fix things. Tears turned to laughter as I watched him crawl around the back of the van with his eyes closed, groping for boxes, and wrapping them with towels so he couldn't see anything as we brought them inside. Crisis averted. I slipped the treasures into their ever so secret hiding place (the only secret about it was that it was a space off-limits to Guy) and we enjoyed another Christmas filled with love and surprises. Over the years I have found that life in a wheelchair includes many mishaps and adventures. My favorite quote from my mom has been, “life happens when you have other things planned”. As I strive to see my life through the lens of unpredictability and spontaneity it allows me to adjust my focus from frustration to laughter or at the very least acceptance.

Zach Anner, an American comedian, actor, and writer (If at Birth You Don’t Succeed[1]) with cerebral palsy shares a similar perspective by posting humorous anecdotes about his life’s view from a wheelchair. I'm not sure if I find his experiences hilarious because I relate to them so well or because they're just plain funny. One of his recent sarcastic quips was, “Just because I’m in a wheelchair doesn’t mean you can pet me like a dog.”[2] I can totally relate to the common well-meaning misconception that my lower height means people should pat me on the head. But it also reminded me of the year I was attending a family Christmas gathering and one of the guests hung his coat on the back of my wheelchair. When I pointed out that I wasn't a coat rack he thought he had a legitimate reason for hanging his coat on my headrest. FYI our laps aren’t tables either. Shane Burcaw, author, entrepreneur and award-winning blogger born with spinal muscular atrophy also uses humor as a coping mechanism and to inspire others dealing with disabilities. He has written a book and started a company called Laughing at my Nightmare.[3]. I find his Instagram posts with his wife Hannah both humorous and inspirational. I haven’t read his book yet but the title itself gave me courage a few nights ago. I can’t even remember what was troubling me but somehow in the midst of my trials I remembered the name of his book. It takes some time and practice to spin the prism of sorrow or despair until you can see the humor and blessings shine through. In this case the words “my nightmare” were the healing balm I needed. Yes, my situation sometimes is a nightmare no matter how much I’ve been blessed by it. And yes, others are experiencing nightmares in their lives too. These were comforting thoughts at that particular moment. I recognized that with God’s help we can all survive the nightmares and often even thrive because of the nightmare but we’re all experiencing the challenges of mortality together.

Shane has recently written a book entitled People Think My Wife is My Caregiver which my husband can probably relate to. But Shane’s greatest achievement is the nonprofit organization he established to provide medical equipment for less fortunate members of the disabled community. Check it out at https://www.laughingatmynightmare.com/about-us

[1] If at Birth You Don't Succeed is a hilariously irreverent and heartfelt memoir about finding your passion and your path even when it's paved with epic misadventure. [2] Zach Anner: Top Ten Things I Wish People Knew About Cerebral Palsy – YouTube Video [3] In 2011, a kid named Shane Burcaw from Bethlehem, PA started a humorous blog to tell his life story of living with a disease that made his muscles waste away as he grew older. Shane realized how badly people needed humor in their lives, so he set out with his cousin Sarah to create a company that could help people laugh more and help others living with the same disease. ​

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