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This past Memorial Day made me reflect on how thankful I really am.  First for the rights and freedom I have that others are not afforded.  We take for granted so many little things that are precious to others.  Also always in my thoughts is my best friend, Jeff.  Jeff and I have been the best of friends since we were 3 years old.  We lived next door to each other in a small New Hampshire town and were inseparable.  As we grew into our teen age years we went off doing our own thing.  Jeff chasing girls and hanging out with this buddies and I was playing sports and dealing with my parents divorce. After high school Jeff joined the Army and I went to college.  I would see him from time to time when he came home, we always seemed to connect with one another.

Eighteen years ago while serving in the Army shortly after the Gulf War, Jeff fell and became fully paralyzed.  It was one of the most frightening phone calls I have ever received. Once stabilized enough he was flown from Germany to a VA hospital in Massachusetts to be closer to his family for support. I was heading out on vacation and knew I could not leave until I saw him, I would cancel my plans without a single second thought. His situation was still critical and they were still unsure if he would survive.  His family was able to get me in to see him when only immediate family was allowed visitation. I will never forget, it was the day when the phrase “it will never happen to anyone I know” turned to reality.  When I saw Jeff I was completely lost for words and did everything I could not to cry and make the situation feel worse for him.  He looked helpless, scared and to make matters worse, he told me he wanted to die.  Given the situation I am sure I would have felt the same way.  

After months of being in the hospital, Jeff was able to come home back to New Hampshire. I would visit him often and got more comfortable just being “normal” around him.  I quickly realize he did not want to be treated any different and if you had anything to ask or say he wanted to hear it.  We became very close once again. Unfortunately the people we grew up with and he had know most of his life struggled dealing with Jeff being a quadriplegic so it was easier for them to not come around.  I was sad to see him disappointed with people’s choices and I grew very protective of him. Even though I was happy to be spending so much time with my friend again, I would give it all away if Jeff could walk again.

Today Jeff has two children, had his own house built and stays very active. He has adaptable equipment for his wheelchair that allow him to hunt and fish.  We joke about his 4-wheeling adventures in the woods where he gets stuck and has to wait for someone to find him and the time when he had too much to drink and we waited 15 minutes for him to back up on the ramp on his van. I think we forget that people that suffer a tragedy and become paralyzed just want to be treated like a regular person and not stared at like there is something wrong with them.  Jeff is fearless and does not let the fact that he is in a chair stop him from trying to live as normal of a life as he can.  He is brave, my hero and my inspiration.

Give thanks for everything that comes your way in life.

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