On the Roll Again

Missy beamed a 500-watt smile as we strolled through a warm Colorado afternoon. Every neighbor got a wave. Every dog earned an eagerly pointing finger. And every block, the rolling of her wheelchair made its soft song against the pavement.

Rumble, rumble, rumble.

Heather and I don’t break the chair out often. Even with the challenges that our ward Missy has – a developmental disability and cerebral palsy, for the record – she usually gets around pretty well as long as she has someone or something to balance on. But when she’s got a long way to go, then it’s time for us to get rolling. And since Missy just got a brand new chair with great new tires, she’s been more eager than ever to hit the road.

Rumble, rumble, rumble.

Yes, it doesn’t get better than … what was that?

Rumble, rumble, rumble … plink.

I turned around.

A shiny screw looked back at me from the sidewalk.

Now, friends and family have often accused me of having a screw loose. But it’s usually not this literal.  Which meant … 

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” 

Sure enough. The brand new wheelchair had shed a brand new part, a small fastening in the right wheel. An easy fix, and a quick check found everything else still secure. But as we continued the journey, I mentally kicked myself for half a block. 

You see, I thought I had noticed the slightest wobble in that wheel a day or two before. But the major fastenings had all looked good when I tested them, so it seemed like a worry over nothing.

Instead, it became a reminder of the two-part lesson we all get again and again: 

1) Little things matter, and can easily become bigger things. 

2) Trust your intuition – or at least give it a hearing. 

The first part is something that every homeowner learns sooner or later as the First Law of Maintenance. But the second is a little trickier. After all, we live in a world that shouts for our attention constantly, most of the time adding more anxiety than information. To survive, we have to filter – and we don’t always do a great job of it, often picking the stuff that fits the easy answers we’ve already reached. 

But somewhere in the rush we have to pause. To think. And to listen for the things we may have noticed in the background. After all, that’s what good intuition is – unconsciously putting together facts you didn’t know you had to reach a conscious conclusion. 

Is the gut always right? Of course not. Sometimes a worry is just a worry. But we have to step back to be sure. To trust the “wait a moment,” dial down the pressure and take the time to see things clearly.

It’s not easy. But it’s essential. 

And when you get everything screwed down tight, it’s amazing how easily you can get rolling again. 

Just ask Missy. We should be rumbling by any minute now.

Remember to wave.

Hall(oween) on Wheels

Missy is just about ready for the season.

No, not the Christmas season. Missy is ready for THAT one at the drop of a jingle bell, at a pace that would embarrass even a major retailer. Holiday displays in September? Please. Missy’s been known to welcome in the spring with a 110-decibel version of “O, Holy Night” on the stereo, and you haven’t lived until you’ve seen the Face Vocal Band holiday video in July a dozen times or so.

No, I’m talking about the time of false faces and plastic pumpkins, of ghosts and goblins and culturally-sanctioned begging for food. Halloween is just about here, and Missy can’t wait.

As I’ve mentioned before, this is a new thing. Whether it’s because of her developmental disability, or just a personal preference, Missy never used to like being surrounded by people in masks and costumes, never mind struggling into an outfit herself. The magic began to happen when she realized she could become the heroes of her favorite stories, especially a certain Boy Who Lived. She’s been Harry Potter twice now, with another two Frodo Bagginses mixed in, and it looks like Star Wars might be on the way this year.

So now she points out pumpkins with alacrity and paints them with enthusiasm. (Yes, we paint rather than carve.) She ooh’s over costume pieces and keeps her Hogwarts robe handy just in case. And when October hits, it’s time to roll. Literally.

And that’s where the challenge sometimes comes in.

Because of her cerebral palsy and other balance issues, it’s hard for Missy to walk long distances. So once she’s all dressed up and has her pillowcase in hand,  she and I do the neighborhood trick-or-treat run by wheelchair.

And appropriately for Halloween, that’s when the unseen becomes visible.

If you’ve ever had to travel more than a short distance on your own wheels, you know what I’m talking about. A host of obstacles that most of us never even think about suddenly loom up with the inevitability of Freddy Krueger pursuing a teenage nightmare. High curbs. Cracked pavement. Cars parked on the sidewalk, or hedges reaching over it like a lurching zombie.

In many respects, Longmont is better than a lot of communities about this sort of thing, or we wouldn’t be able to consider trick-or-treating at all. But even so, it still requires constant awareness, regular rerouting, and enough effort in boosting her wheelchair over small hurdles that it pretty much becomes my Oct. 31 core workout.   Sometimes Missy giggles at the effort, sometimes it draws a “No!” of annoyance instead.

At times like this, I am grateful for the neighbors.

On a night when fun could easily become frustration for her, many of them keep a lookout for her. Some have met her at the bottom of porch steps with their bowls of candy, so that she doesn’t have to keep getting in and out of the chair. Some have given her an extra share, or kept a special supply on hand just for her, to make her night a better one. Many have greeted her or helped clear the way for her while going house to house with their own children.

It’s a parade of small kindnesses and moments of caring. And they make a difference.

Just as they do long after the costumes are back in the closet.

Many people face similar hidden obstacles, whether because of race or sex or disability or a hundred other things that are simply part of who they are. Most are like that crack in the pavement – easily crossed without thinking by  most of life’s travelers, but an insuperable barrier to some.

That’s where awareness matters. And kindness. And empathy. A realization that others walk on a different path and face different challenges than we do, and an effort to understand and meet those challenges.

It’s a basic trick. But it can be such a treat. And it makes all our days a lot easier.

Even the ones with overpowered Christmas carols.