A Challenge for the Whole Family

[Seth Apter of The Altered Page is conducting a Buried Treasure hunt and encouraged bloggers to resurrect one of their favorite long ago posts. I like this one. I may put up a couple more golden oldies to follow. Then back to the normal sturm and drang of the present.]

It’s the 13th anniversary of Patti’s accident. Jack wrote a lovely essay about how that event has effected him since he was just a baby. Here’s a video of him reading it at his school’s literary festival.

The video is above and here’s the text:

A Challenge for the Whole Family by Jack Tea Gregory
It was June 8th of 1995 when the incident happened. It felt like a normal day, nobody expected anything out of the ordinary. My mother was waiting for the 9 train and she was in a hurry. She was rushing to a demanding photo shoot that was very important to her career. While she was standing near the tracks, peering down the tunnel, her stress and the intense heat caused her to faint. She started to fall just as the train pulled up to the platform and the wind caused from the train whizzing past pulled her into the middle of the track, allowing her to avoid any electrocution. However, she wasn’t safe, the way she fell caused her spinal cord to bend and her back twisted, just before a dangling piece of metal hanging from the train hit her. She was immediately taken to the hospital where they placed an iron rod into her back because her spinal cord had been broken. My mother had been paralyzed from the waist down. She could no longer walk and was forced to sit in a wheelchair. Ever since that day, her life and those surrounding her was instantly affected greatly. Luckily, she was able to get through the therapy and with the support of her family, a new child, and a great sense of humor she was able to push past the injury and escape the pit of despair that many fall into. Many people who are hit by trains come out the tracks in different ways; some are bruised and some are killed. Luckily she didn’t experience the latter, but still life has been a challenge. Our family has also recovered from it and is able to say that they have grown used to it.
Living in New York hasn’t been the easiest, there are a lot of places that don’t have ramps or aren’t accessible. Whenever we find a problem we try and make the best of it. For example, when Mom got her first wheelchair, instead of grimacing about not being able to walk, she would place me on her lap and we’d ride down huge ramps and hills together. The rush between fear of falling and the fun of the wind speeding past our faces created a sense that nothing else in the world existed. My old school had stairs everywhere and she often couldn’t come to school performances or celebrations. I would usually try to take pictures of what was going on so that I could bring her a substitute for not having been there. I would bring her my work if we were celebrating a finished work party.
When my mother would pick me up from school, I would look up from the monkey bars and see all the kids starting to crowd around her. They would ask her questions like, “Do you sleep in a wheelchair?” or “How do you go to the bathroom?” Being the kind woman she is, she’d simply answer them as if nothing was wrong. But I couldn’t help but feel separate from the rest of the children. They found it cool and interesting that my mom was in a wheelchair. They didn’t know how it really was though, all the things we couldn’t do anymore because of this problem. We sometimes can’t go on vacation to certain places because the hotel has a flight of stairs or its elevator has broken down. There are a lot of cars that she can’t get into because they are too high for her to transfer into. However, we find ways around this. My father or I lift her up the stairs and we use a small piece of wood that we call “the Transfer Board,” which she uses to slide across onto the car’s seating.
Taxi drivers are our next issue. Since we didn’t own a car, taxis or the bus are our main form of transportation. Unfortunately, only a small fraction of the drivers actually know how to load up a wheelchair. We have to help them to understand how the wheels come off and how to fold up the seat. This can take about 15 minutes and it becomes very annoying after the 20th time.
This incident has changed our life completely and entirely. I can’t imagine or picture how different I’d be if my mother wasn’t in a wheelchair. Most people would think that this is a near to impossible lifestyle but it’s not. We get through each challenge and we do it as family, together. We have as much fun as any other family would; we just do it in a different way.

[Originally posted June 7, 2008]

7 thoughts on “A Challenge for the Whole Family

  1. Jack you are an extraordinary guy. Most kids have their moms a whole lot longer than you did, but I can tell your mom and dad have crammed 6 lifetimes of love, curiosity and passion for life into your existence so far. It may be weird to you that so many people feel like they know your family. For me, I’m grateful for the inspiration, and the simple, but wise insight I find here, that I can’t help but want the very best for you guys.

  2. Jack, an beautiful and strong presentation of two, really three including your dad, strong and beautiful people and with the gentle sense of humour you dad so often exhibits in drawings and words. Thank you for allowing this moment to be shared.

  3. The first time I read/watched this post I cried, and now again, for all the love, courage and beauty contained in a boy—and his family. Thank you for re-posting, it really is a treasure.

  4. Hey Dan,

    Hats off, Sir!!! …Your life journey has been an inspiration. This is the true human spirit – Who says there’s a God up there!! It is the answer to life challenges that is the God in all of Us.

    I have seen such a existence through the eyes of a friend…and yes it takes phenomenal courage and love to keep the family together…but hey, ain’t that a ‘true family’?

    The cycle of life and death continues, but when people like you and Jack make death a part of the very existence, and not some distant memory that needs to be revived only on anniversaries, then the true meaning of ‘Renaissance’ comes alive.

    Keep living….It’s life after all :-)

    God bless the human spirit.

    Regards,
    Opus Dei

  5. What a wonderful caring and intelligent young man Jack has become. You and Patti did a great job! Your fammily is such an inspiration for all of us.

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