Thursday, August 1, 2019
In an instant, my end-of-summer plans changed. I was supposed to celebrate the end of the bar exam by backpacking with my spouse. Instead, I'm learning to stand, hobble, and walk around a bit with the aid of a wheelchair and a walker by my side. In the aftermath of an accident on the way to visit my mom in the hospital, of all places, I ended up in the hospital with multiple lower back fractures. I'm told that I need to wear a back brace (sort of like a upper-body cast to immobilize my back) for the next three months. It's given me a new appreciation for those with limited mobility or other challenges.
Interestingly, while feeling sorry for myself, I told the physical therapist that I was sad that I couldn't go backpacking because I had worked so hard, throughout the winter, spring, and summer, to train for the grueling trek. In response, the physical therapist stated matter of factly that had I not been exercising for all of those many previous months, I would not yet be standing or walking. In other words, my training was not for naught. Indeed, that training has been a big blessing in retrospect.
It seems like life - with its many unanticipated circumstances - seems to so often derail us. I'm fortunate. I'm at home now resting and recovering. It's not what I hoped for but the accident has given me a new appreciation for others. Like the team of rescue workers. I never saw them. I couldn't open my eyes due to the pain. But, they were there, and that's all that mattered. Present. Helping. Encouraging. And at the hospital, the emergency room staff and the nurses, and the CNA's and the transporters and the doctors. Wow; they worked as a team. As I regained my senses, I noticed that everywhere my stretcher bed was pushed in the hospital, from X-rays to CT scans to MRI's, people asked their coworkers - not if they could help - but rather, how they could help. That's real teamwork.
Now that I am back home, I'm starting to realize that my world has gotten a lot smaller...and yet a lot bigger too. It's become smaller in that I can't just hop a car or take a bus and go where I'd like to travel independently. It takes teamwork to get my moving. But, it's a lot bigger because I'm seeing things that I never noticed before. Like the many obstacles that are so often in the way of those who live and move in wheelchairs. In other words, I'm starting to notice the world, at least a bit, from the vantage point of others. And, I'm starting to appreciate the small things in life, like a beautiful yellow butterfly that seems brush against the morning window greeting me with a hardy hello. You see, obstacles can bring opportunities.
That brings me back to law school. It's orientation week (or soon will be) for new 1L students. As I think about how to relate to them, I wonder if too many years have passed such that I no longer know the excitement of the first day on campus, or the fear of whether I will fit in, or the uncertainty of whether I will even be up for the task of law school. So, as I reflect on my accident, I think that the challenge for me as an academic support professional is to just be present to my students, to hear them out, to encourage them, to help them turn obstacles into opportunities for learning. As I end this post, let me also say one more thing. All of us are holding back something; we all have obstacles in our paths. But most of the time, I don't take the time to get to know the others in my life, which means that I don't really let them become part of my life (nor let them become part of my life). As this new academic year begins, my aim is to be present; simply present. To be listening to them; to hear them out. To encourage them and to help them know that they belong. Step by step. Welcome to the new year! (Scott Johns).