Finding a new life, along with the old
by John Pixley
Wait. Is it okay for me to be doing this?
Is it okay for me to be out here on this nice, crisp fall day? Am I supposed to be this far from home, on my own, in my wheelchair? Am I supposed to be going home from the colleges by myself, going along with all the students walking and skateboarding by, instead of getting a ride back?
I kept hearing all this, all these questions and precautions, in my head this fall. I would get dropped off at a lunchtime talk at the Athenaeum at Claremont McKenna College or a Friday noon concert at Balch Auditorium at Scripps College and say I would get home on my own when it was over. As much as I loved this, this freedom, these questions kept coming up. Something was wrong.
This wasn’t part of the plan. This wasn’t supposed to be part of my new life, the new life I set out to find after a spinal surgery left me much more disabled, now almost six years ago. Yes, I was up in my wheelchair, getting out and about a bit on my own, definitely no longer bedridden, but there was also no way I could get around all over town and beyond in my chair on my own like I used to.
So what was I doing, doing what I did in my old life, before the surgery?
I had told myself after the surgery, after a year of recovery and getting back up into my wheelchair (actually a new one, designed for my new limitations), that I couldn’t do what I did before and had to find, had to embrace, “my new life.” This meant going a few blocks around my house in my wheelchair, occasionally to the Village if I felt up to it. More than that, it entailed seeing how often I could handle going out to concerts, plays, talks, movies — all the stuff I had always loved doing.
I was just getting into this venturing out when the pandemic hit. Suddenly, in March 2020, I was back stuck at home, more or less. I wasn’t bedridden again, and, thankfully, I could go out for strolls in the neighborhood on my own (masked, as most of us did outdoors then), but otherwise, no more venturing out for me — and for everyone else. This time, this strange, most unusual time, I wasn’t alone in being stuck at home. We were all in the same lockdown, if not forced, convalescence boat.
I confess that I secretly enjoyed it. I didn’t feel so alone. And now perhaps people would get an idea of what I went through or was going through.
Now, as we literally stumble our way out of Covid as it’s unclear even that it’s time to do so, I’m picking up, ever so carefully, sometimes the only one with a mask on, where I left off, continuing venturing out into my new life. And again, I’m not the only one in this venturing out, figuring out how far is too far, how much is too much.
These last few years have been a time of reassessment, welcomed or not. Many of us have drawn new lines, marking off what we want and don’t want in life, what we are and are not willing to do. (Hence, the “great resignation,” etc.)
I’m finding out that while, to my dismay, it hurts too much to wear my high-tops and it’s too difficult to wear my overalls every day, I can wear my cool wool hats after having my hair cut very short and the headrest on my wheelchair, which I discovered I don’t need, removed. Not only do I enjoy wearing these almost forgotten hats, it turns out they enable me to go out in my wheelchair on cooler days, on the beautiful fall days that I love.
Yes, things have changed and I have changed, like we all have. But that doesn’t mean everything has to change. Yes, I have a new life, a new life that, as I’m learning, can include parts of my “old life” if I take care and, in so doing, be all the richer.