Push Off the Wall

True story time again.

When I used to drive a taxi, I primarily spent my time transporting wheelchair-bound passengers using a special van. Most wheelchair-bound passengers were on government assistance of some sort and merely used the taxi to get to and from medical appointments. However there were a few that were financially independent enough to pay for the exorbitant price of a taxi ride to go out for leisure activities. Something as simple as going to a shopping center was quite a logistical ordeal for most of them.

So this one time I pick up a lady who is not only wheelchair-bound, but is also quadriplegic. That means all four of her limbs, her arms and her legs, are paralyzed. She only was able to move the parts of her body from her neck up.

It’s one thing to think about this theoretically, but to interact with these quadriplegic people in person just blew my mind. I can’t think of very many things in this life that are more difficult than living with quadriplegia. You are literally a prisoner of your own body. Technology has made amazing advances in helping quadriplegics. For instance, they have little mouthpieces they can use to drive their electric wheelchairs. Yet for almost everything, they are 100% completely dependent on the mercy of others to get through even the simplest of tasks. They cannot feed themselves, they cannot go to the bathroom by themselves, they cannot clothe themselves. I mean there are a lot of doubts about many people who are on government assistance, but quadriplegics do not fall into that category. They literally are unable to help themselves 99% of the time.

But you know what they do have control over? Their attitude and their mind. And believe me – I’ve seen both sides. I don’t want to spend too much time on it, but just for contrast, I’ll say that I’ve seen the dark side of what quadriplegia can do to a person. They are struggling for control of whatever they can control and sometimes that can look like holding people hostage in various ways in order to get their needs met. Or it can look like self-destructive behavior. One of the few times I almost called the cops on someone was when I picked up an older paralyzed man from a strip club and he urinated all over the back of my taxi and then didn’t want to pay the extra clean up fee. Or the times I had a younger paralyzed man who would take the taxi frequently to go out drinking at the club and then be cursing at his caregivers and demanding they pay for the taxi when he arrived back home. I’ve seen paralyzed women torture their caregivers by being viciously emotionally manipulative. I mean, try putting up boundaries with a quadriplegic. Not the easiest task, let me assure you from experience.

And I’m really not here to judge. Even the briefest consideration of their experience, of what it would be like in their shoes, just leaves me so scared and thankful I’m not in that position. I’m not saying their hurtful behaviors are ok. I’m just saying I can understand how easy it would be to go there in that situation.

But that being said, there were those few quadriplegics that I encountered that broke the mold. That rose above. That blew me away with their strength of character, mind, and heart. Some had full-time jobs that they went to. Others travelled. But my favorite was this woman who owned her own business! I picked her up from the shopping center one day and took her to her home in the more expensive part of town.

Now you might think she started her business before she became paralyzed? But no, she started her business after she was a full-blown quadriplegic! She used her mind and organized a service around what she knew best – caregiving! She created an employment agency for caregivers. She would recruit caregivers, interview them, and then find and send them out on caregiving jobs. How perfect, eh? She of all people knew what to look for in a caregiver.

Not only did she inspire me tremendously, but she also challenged me! I transported her at least twice and it was the last time that I spoke with her that she challenged me. I guess in her line of work, she was used to checking people out and evaluating their strengths and abilities. I don’t know how we got on the subject, but she called me out. She questioned why I was doing the taxi-driving when I had potential to do other jobs that paid much more and were safer.

I was at a loss for words when she challenged me. I mean she had true authority, no posturing. I didn’t feel shamed, but any excuse I had paled with the obstacles she had to overcome in her position. And she knew it. She kept pushing me as our time was coming to a close. It was an encouraging rebuke. She had full faith in me. I remember her parting words: “Push off the wall, Sarah! Push off the wall!”

I knew exactly what she meant. I was a swimmer for many years. The people who are scared in the pool cling to the wall, the side of the pool, the whole time. She was speaking my language. That’s what I was doing with my life.

She was challenging me to let go of the security of keeping myself in the relatively safe position of under-performing. Of not enduring the pain of failure to reach my full potential. Yes, any honest work is 100% honorable. But I was letting fear get the best of me. Whereas she had physical paralysis, I had mental analysis paralysis.

Not only was she a stranger speaking life to me, but her success in the face of so many challenges was so inspiring! Amazing to think that we could let fear imprison us more than a paraplegic would let their body imprison them.

“Push off the wall, Sarah! Push off the wall!”

It was shortly after that and at least two other angels in my taxi that also gave me the same challenge and spoke life to me, that I gathered the courage to start to not define myself by my failures. I gathered what little self-confidence I had left and started applying for jobs where my life wasn’t threatened on a daily basis. And what was the first job I was offered? Working as a technical support agent at The Scooter Store! Helping paralyzed people when their electric wheelchairs malfunctioned. Wow, eh?! Full circle! I’d like to think there was some Divine Intervention at work there.

What limits am I putting on myself today? I am Loved. It’s ok to try and fail. This isn’t about performing for the sake of performing. This is more about considering regrets. Will I respect myself tomorrow for the decisions I make today? Push off the wall. 😁

And this is also about speaking life to one another. You never know who needs you to see them today. When they’ve lost sight of the accurate picture of themselves. You never know where your seed of encouragement might land on someone who needs it today. Don’t underestimate whatever impact you can make. My paralyzed customer is proof of putting whatever gifts we have been given to work. Working with whatever we have. You are important, needed, and have a lot to offer!

Push off the wall. 😁

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