“Are you afraid?”
“Yes, I am afraid that things have changed.”
“No. You are afraid that things will never change.”
— The Princess and the Warrior
“Perfect love casts out all fear.”
— First John 4:18
When a bone breaks there is a definite feeling in the pit of one’s stomach. It is not pain. It is a feeling that your world has been altered in a profound way. The connectedness of the skeletal system has been violated. All bets are off for the cooperation of bone and muscle. And then there is pain.
Being stood up for a coffee date is not something new. It was a mistake to go to a bar after being stood up for the coffee date. Sitting on a barstool in a gay bar is the loneliest feeling on the planet. I endured the smoke and rejection for a little over an hour. I came home and went online. Even in cyberspace I was rejected. It was time to cut my losses and go to bed.
And then a message appeared on the screen. It was my friend the fireman who had just returned home from his assignment in New York City post 9/11 disaster relief.
“I’m home now.”
“Good to hear it …”
“I have some bad news.”
“I’m sorry …”
“I may have injured my spinal column while in New York. And in the process they have diagnosed me with MS.”
“I’m so sorry …”
“David, I’m scared shitless …”
“I know that you do not know me well enough to believe these words …
but I do care.”
“I go into the hospital tomorrow for tests …”
“Can I come visit you?”
“Eventually … give me some time …”
My father was a philosopher king. He roamed the mountains of eastern Oregon with a walking stick and a Bible. Mt. Emily was just outside our back door. Legend has it that the mountain was named for the dead baby of Sacajewea who was buried on that mountain. One of the distinctive features of the mountain is the rim rock that forms a square cap on the mountain.
By the time I was thirteen I had had thirteen broken legs. At age fourteen I was using a new lightweight wheelchair to replace the antiquated wicker back wheelchair of the County Health Department. The new wheelchair was capable of popping wheelies in the hallways of my junior high school.
It was not unusual for my father to take me and my friends camping. Mt. Emily was not a common camping destination that surprised me. Loading a group of young teenage boys into our station wagon with our gear and my wheelchair was a challenge, unloading less of one.
My wheelchair sat in the midst of sleeping bags and pillows. I watched as camp was pitched that late afternoon. I could not wheel myself easily on the soft, uneven terrain and was shuffled from friend to friend for mobility.
My father gathered his unruly flock together to announce that we would be going on a hike. I knew that “we” meant “they” and it was something to which I was accustomed. They would go on a hike and I would stay by the fire and tend camp.
“David is going with us this time.” My father was not the type to make cruel jokes.
He walked to the station wagon and retrieved a long rope. He had one of the boys push my chair as we went to the base of the mountain. The remainder of what occurred had the air of a church service. He threaded the rope through the arms of my wheelchair and laid it up the slope of the mountain. He positioned the boys along the rope and then stood at the back of the chair.
It is important to know that my father does not choose trails. The route he had chosen was literally straight up the side of a rather steep mountain. And the boys he had chosen were not known for their strength or coordination. But as they picked up that rope they were transformed. They became muscular Egyptian men pulling a barge on the Nile.
The only sounds I recall were the heavy breathing of my friends and the breaking of twigs as my chair rolled over the fragile branches. My father steadied the chair at the rear. It would totter and occasionally become stuck and my friends would pull harder. We were a combination of the friends who lowered the paralytic through the roof to see Jesus and pioneers from the east hauling a china cupboard across the Oregon Trail. We proceeded up the mountain. No trail, just the guidance of my father.
We reached a level place at the top. My father gathered the rope and handed it to one of the boys. My father could now push my chair and there did seem to be a trail of sorts. He had prepared the way in advance? The parade proceeded in silence.
“The rim rock is this way.” We took a slight turn and went down and through a clearing of trees. The rim rock provided a ledge from which to view the valley below. The trip had been timed in such a way that the sun was setting. I could see the river that was near our house. I could see our small town. I could see the farmlands and the mountains beyond the farmlands. It was golden.
My father had discovered this viewpoint in his wanderings on the mountain. “I wanted you to see this, David.”
And in that moment I discovered how much my father loved me. And in that moment I discovered the meaning of the word perspective.